Experience with the exact type of surgery you are about to undergo is critical to a good outcome. So that makes the patient’s job very straight-forward: You MUST ask the question: “What is your experience with this procedure?” But there’s a lot more to ask as well. Here’s a discussion excerpted from my book, “The Life You Save”:
1. “Do I really need any surgery?” (A busy surgeon – and busy means a lot of doctors have confidence in this surgeon — will be more candid than a surgeon with time on his hands to tell you that waiting might be the most prudent thing to do.)
2. “What is the exact procedure that you would recommend for a family member if they had the same thing I have?” (You need to make sure the surgeon and you are both talking about the exact kind of procedure proposed for you, not some close cousin.)
3. “Who would you ask to do the operation on a close family member of yours if you couldn’t?”
4. “How often do you do this kind of procedure?” You want to hear: “Every week” (and if you hear “a few times a year” or less, you want to drop this surgeon).
5. “Is there anyone at your institution (in your partnership, in my town, etc.) who does these procedures more than you do? If so, would you mind if I speak to him or her?” (A defensive response to this question is a red flag.)
6. “How long have you been doing this procedure?” (Be careful with this one, because some surgeons can honestly say “years” but have less experience in volume of cases than a fresh-faced young surgeon who has just finished rigorous sub-specialty training at a major teaching hospital with several cases every week. The more important focus is volume of recent cases.)
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