Your Spine Surgeon Works FOR YOU!

What should patients know about their role in the spine surgery process?

You’re the boss. Yes, really. All playfulness aside, one of the most important concepts for patients to understand when it comes to spine surgery (or any type of medical procedure) is that they have power and a voice that needs hearing. I know it can be a tough notion to grasp, especially for older patients. The idea that the surgeon holds all of the decision-making cards is a relatively common assumption. But I am here to tell you it is a dangerous perception and frankly, one that simply isn’t true for most of us.

In its most recent Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 Survey, 67 percent of SpineUniverse respondents who underwent lower back surgery reported that their spine surgeon involved them in the decision-making process. Though I hope that percentage rises even higher as patients become more confident in the power of their input, I think we’re headed in the right direction.

Optimistic, hopeful, rose colored, happy; words on a cubeNow, before you go thinking that rose-colored glasses have tinted my concept of reality – I want to acknowledge that it can be difficult for some patients to talk to their surgeon about the spine treatment process. I know it. In fact, I’ve experienced it. Especially for patients who have come to me for a second opinion, there can be a perception that questioning a treatment recommendation is a sign of disrespect for my expertise and spine health authority. I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

In all honesty, an important part of whether or not spine surgery is “right” for you is based upon your belief that the surgeon you’re considering is the right one for the job. Your feelings on this are priceless, unquantifiable and they absolutely matter.

I would also be remiss if I said that the fear of questioning a surgeon’s recommendations is all in a patient’s head. Unfortunately, sometimes the fear is warranted. And that should be a huge red flag for patients. If you’ve asked a question of a surgeon you are considering in a respectful manner and he or she gets evasive or defensive, take note of that. This is your life. And you are putting it in our hands – literally and figuratively. There should be no question about our outcomes, complication rates or anything else having to do with our scope of clinical practice that should be “off limits.” If you get the feeling that something just isn’t right with the surgeon you’re considering – don’t dismiss it. It may be time to seriously consider looking elsewhere for care.

By and large, we spine surgeons have one goal in common – to relieve our patients’ back pain suffering and to restore them to pain-free living. In order to accomplish that goal, we need to hear from YOU – your thoughts, your concerns, your hopes for life after spine surgery. All of this information plays a vital role in which treatments we recommend (if any at all) and how we recommend accomplishing them. In a nutshell, your voice is an essential part of the spine treatment process. We’re all ears.