Signs It’s Time to Find a New Spine Specialist

Maybe your concerns are falling on your doctor’s deaf ears. Or, you might be pressured into a treatment. Perhaps it’s just a gut feeling. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to recognize when your relationship with your spine specialist isn’t serving your best interests. To help understand when it’s time to find a new physician, SpineUniverse spoke with S. Samuel Bederman, MD, PhD, FRCSC, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at RESTORE Orthopedics and Spine Center in Orange, CA.

Doctor speaking with a patientIt’s important to recognize when your relationship with your spine specialist isn’t serving your best interests. Photo Source:

What red flags signal that it's time to find a new spine specialist?

Dr. Bederman: Pushing spine surgery too early is a big red flag. Other behaviors or recommendations that should concern a patient include:

  1. If your doctor recommends a treatment that seems “too good to be true,” such as proposing a small, minimally invasive procedure for a larger problem (eg, adult scoliosis)
  2. If your doctor does not adequately explain the details of the procedure and the goals of the procedure
  3. If your doctor proposes a very invasive surgery without much consideration to your symptoms or the major problem
  4. If your doctor becomes upset when you ask questions

When a patient decides to seek a second opinion or leave the doctor entirely, does he or she need to get any information from the previous doctor?

Dr. Bederman: It’s always a good idea to get your records and imaging (such as x-rays, CT scans, and/or MRI scans) from previous doctors and keep copies—it makes your next doctor more informed about your previous nonsurgical and surgical treatments. 

Your original physician should be open to providing you all your records. If this becomes uncomfortable, it is another sign that moving on for a second opinion is the right decision.

Knowing many spine surgeons or specialists specialize (eg, pediatric, adult, cervical vs lumbar spine), are there telltale signs that a patient's spinal disorder is more complex than what his or her current doctor can treat?

Dr. Bederman: This discussion is critical. Patients should ask their doctors about their experience with specific procedures, particularly when they are complex. Below are some good questions to ask your doctor:

  • How many of these procedures do you perform each year?
  • Would you recommend this treatment to a family member with the same diagnosis?
  • Who would you want to perform the surgery if your relative was undergoing the treatment?
  • May I speak with one of your patients who had this treatment?

What are some ways the patient can help maintain a good relationship with his or her spine specialist?

Dr. Bederman: Ask all the questions you need to feel comfortable moving forward with a treatment, but understand it may take multiple appointments to cover all your questions. For complex spine surgeries, many questions will come to mind—and it may be hard to have every one of them fully answered during the initial visit. However, it is important you ask questions and get them answered to your satisfaction.

If you think of additional questions about your spine surgery after meeting with your doctor—of if there isn’t enough time to address them all at the time of the visit—you should be able to schedule another visit with your doctor to answer remaining questions. It is a good idea to let your doctor’s office know that you have many questions that need to be answered and perhaps your doctor should set aside enough time to address them.

Updated on: 08/05/19
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