How Do Patients Choose a Spine Surgeon?

31st Annual Meeting of the North American Spine Society Highlight

Board certification, in-network provider status, and bedside manner were rated as the most important factors influencing patients’ spine surgeon selection, according to an observational study presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the North American Spine Society in Boston, MA.

“Surgeons should focus less on their online ratings and advertisements and more on their interactions with patients,” said coinvestigator Fady Y. Hiiji, BA, who presented on behalf of Kern Singh, MD. Dr. Singh is Associate Professor at Rush University Medical Center, Co-Director of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in Chicago, IL.

The investigators analyzed survey responses from 193 patients seeking treatment from a single surgeon in private practice in an urban setting. Patients were asked to rate the importance of 16 factors related to spine surgeon selection, ranging from primary care referral to bedside manner to advertisements/online reviews. Patients also were asked to state their preference regarding 6 surgeon characteristics, including age, subspecialty, location, and appointment availability.

A majority of the respondents were younger than 50 years of age and had private insurance.

man using computerPatients were asked to rate the importance of 16 factors related to spine surgeon selection. Photo Source:

Top 3 Most Important Factors Used to Choose a Spine Surgeon

As shown in the Table, the top 3 factors considered by these patients when choosing a spine surgeon were board certification, in-network provider status, and bedside manner. In contrast, advertisements of any kind—including ratio, online, and television—received the lowest scores in terms of importance, Mr. Hiiji explained.

factors patients consider when choosing a spine surgeonFactors that patients consider when choosing a spine surgeon.Despite the importance placed on board certification, it is important to note that licensure in the United States does not require board certification, Mr. Hiiji said. “Rather, it may be that board certification serves as a proxy for patients to perceive surgical quality and expertise,” he said.

The study also indicated that patients value their interactions with surgeons, Mr. Hiiji said. “Despite this, many surgeons tend to focus on their surgical quality and outcomes. While these factors are extremely important, we should not minimize our time with patients.”

Which Surgeon Characteristics Are Most Important to Patients?

In terms of surgeon characteristics, more than half of patients preferred a surgeon younger than 65 years of age and with a neurosurgical background. Nearly all patients (91%) reported not wanting to wait more than 30 minutes between check-in and seeing their surgeon.

Mr. Hiiji noted that while 54% of patients preferred to see a neurosurgeon for their spine care, the surgeon they were seeing at the time they completed the survey is an orthopaedic surgeon.

To view additional meeting highlights from the 31st Annual Meeting of NASS, click here.

Updated on: 02/22/19
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