How to Choose a Spine Surgeon

Written by Jean-Jacques Abitbol, MD

Patients with neck and back pain usually seek medical care first from their family doctor or primary care physician. However, many patients require the services of a spine specialist. A spine specialist is a physician who has completed additional years of medical training in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal disorders such as scoliosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, herniated discs, stenosis, spine injuries, fractured vertebrae, spinal deformity, tumors, infections, and congenital abnormalities. Most spine surgeons are either orthopaedic surgeons or neurosurgeons who are fellowship-trained in spine.
What to Look for in a Spine Surgeon 
It is important for patients to be as involved as possible in their own medical care. This includes the choice of doctors. Some managed care programs leave little room for choice, but if you are able to choose your physician, here are some guidelines on what to look for in a spine specialist:

Make sure the spine surgeon is board certified (or board eligible) and fellowship trained in spine. This means that in addition to the usual surgical residency requirements, he or she has completed a fellowship program in spine that included at least one additional year of training specific to spine surgery.

Choose a spine surgeon who devotes at least 50% of his or her practice to the treatment of spinal conditions. A physician who sees mostly spine patients will be more up-to-date on newer technologies and techniques than a physician who only sees spine patients occasionally.

In addition to the physician's credentials, make sure the physician you choose is someone you feel comfortable with. After all, finding a physician you can trust is almost as important as his or her experience. Good communication is essential in a doctor/patient relationship, so ask yourself these questions:

Talk to the physician about his or her experience with the latest techniques and technologies in spine surgery. How many procedures has he or she performed? Is the doctor willing to refer you to any former patients who may be available to share their experiences with you?

Things to Look Out For
There are also a few things you should be cautious of when selecting a spine surgeon. Avoid any doctor who does the following:

If you have concerns about a particular physician, you can contact your state Medical Board to find out whether the practitioner has ever had disciplinary action taken against his or her license.

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