When you have a condition that may require spine surgery, there are several important considerations to keep in mind. The most important of those considerations is the spine surgeon you entrust to perform the operation.
Surgeons perform around 1.62 million spinal procedures1 each year in which some type of device is implanted, but not all surgeons are equally qualified, skilled or experienced. With so many different practicing spine surgeons to choose from, weighing your options may seem daunting—but choosing the right surgeon with the right qualifications is essential for achieving a positive surgical outcome. The alternative—choosing an ill-equipped spine surgeon—could result in a poor surgical outcome and what’s now known as “failed back surgery syndrome.”
To help you explore your options and make a smart, fully informed decision, we developed a list of qualifications to look for when evaluating the different spine surgeons in your area:
1. Level of Training
Spine surgery is complex and requires comprehensive training and experience. Before choosing a spine surgeon, research their education and training to learn their credentials. The surgeon you choose should have completed a residency in orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery, ideally with a fellowship in spinal surgery. Specifically, evaluate how experienced each spine surgeon is at treating patients with your condition—the more experienced they are in performing the procedure you’re planning for, the better.
Along with the spine surgeon’s own website, you can research their background and expertise using a variety of online resources, such as the reputable databases we shared above. While good for obtaining a general impression, reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, as patients are more likely to leave reviews in case of a negative experience
2. Practice and Track Record
There’s something to be said for a spine surgeon with a great track record, especially for treating spinal conditions similar to your own. When evaluating your options, learn more about each spine surgeon’s practice and history—how successful have they been? Do they dedicate at least 50 percent of their practice to the treatment of spinal conditions? Do they track patient outcomes and results? If so, what do those outcomes look like?
Many physicians list their biography on their practice’s website for patients to review. There are also several online resources available to help you research the different spine surgeons you’re considering, such as:
Additionally, you can ask your primary care physician to refer you to a spine surgeon whom they recommend. Choosing a spine surgeon that focuses on following patient outcomes with the goal of further improving and innovating treatments may provide you with the peace of mind that you’re in the right hands during surgery.
3. Board Certification
Another qualification to look for is a spine surgeon who is board certified. Board certification sets specialists apart from less experienced surgeons, because it requires that certain standards, testing, and adequate training criteria are met.
There are a number of different boards that provide certification, such as the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and the American Board of Neurological Surgery. To confirm whether a surgeon is board certified, search medical board websites, each of which has its own provider search function. In addition to board certification, you may want to verify if your surgeon is a member of one of the major Spine Professional Societies, such as the North American Spine Society.
4. Patient Reviews
Online reviews and testimonials are another great way to learn about a spine surgeon’s track record and patient success stories. Investigate reviews from other patients who have had procedures similar to yours. What were their experiences like? What are their long-term results? Would they recommend a particular spine surgeon to other patients like you?
Though the spine surgeons you’re researching will likely have patient testimonials and maybe even success story videos on their websites, researching a variety of outside, unbiased sources is still necessary to get a well-rounded idea of what you can expect. You can peruse provider ratings and learn more about patient experiences at medical review websites such as Healthgrades.
Wondering what to look for when reading patient reviews? Generally speaking, it is important for a spine surgeon to express interest in their patients, as well as a desire to understand their life goals and desired outcomes following surgery.
5. Relationship with Patients
Bedside manner matters—especially when your quality of life is quite literally in a spine surgeon’s hands. Pay attention to how comfortable you feel during your surgical consultation to better determine if a spine surgeon is a good fit for you. Clear and open communication will be critical to ensuring that you adhere to the pre- and postoperative regimens appropriately, and that you are able to make care decisions with as much clinical understanding as possible.
It’s always important to trust your instincts, even if everything looks great on paper. Ask yourself: Does the spine surgeon answer all your questions? Spend enough time with you? Are they reachable, open-minded, and a good listener? Do they welcome or discourage you from seeking a second opinion?
Keep an eye out for red flags, such as a spine surgeon who discourages you from second opinions, does not answer all questions (or makes you feel uncomfortable for asking them), tries to influence your decision to have surgery, bypasses conservative treatment options in favor of surgery, and/or Is not forthcoming about treatments, techniques, costs, outcomes, and expectations for recovery.
6. Innovative and Open to New Technology
Spinal procedures are always evolving. As technology evolves, so do the techniques and procedures used during spine surgery. When evaluating different surgeons in your area, consider their willingness to innovate: Are they open to treating you without surgery? Do they research and explore new technology and techniques to make sure they’re taking the best approach for each patient?
Consider an innovative spine surgeon who is always looking to improve the outcomes for their patients, possibly with new technologies and techniques. By choosing a spine surgeon who considers innovation when proven effective, you can rest assured you’ll receive the most effective, least invasive treatment option available to you.
For example, a spine surgeon who considers the Barricaid device during discectomy surgery for a lumbar herniated disc with a large hole in the disc may decrease the likelihood of reherniation by approximately 50 percent2 for these patients at greatest risk. This is just one of several evidence-based technological advancements that have the potential to change spine care for the better.
Choosing the Best Spine Surgeon for the Best Outcome
By carefully researching each spine surgeon and choosing the most qualified, you can increase the chances of a positive outcome and of living an active and pain-free life. Doing your homework and making an informed decision regarding your spine surgeon puts you in the driver’s seat, empowering you to take your health into your own hands and make the right choice for you.
Though this blog is meant to provide you with the information you need to make an educated decision about your treatment options, it is not intended to replace professional medical care or provide medical advice. If you have any questions about Barricaid, please call or see your doctor, who is the only person qualified to diagnose and treat your spinal condition. As with any surgical procedure, you should select a doctor who is experienced in performing the specific surgery that you are considering.
If you have any questions about Barricaid, you may ask your doctor. For additional information, please visit www.barricaid.com. For complete risk-benefit information: www.barricaid.com/instructions-for-use.
1. How Many Spinal Fusions are Performed Each Year in the United States?,” iData Research, 2018, https://idataresearch.com/how-many-instrumented-spinal-fusions-are-performed-each-year-in-the-united-states.
2. Larry E. Miller et al, “Expert Review with Meta-Analysis of Randomized and Nonrandomized Controlled Studies of Barricaid Annular Closure in Patients at High Risk for Lumbar Disc Reherniation,” Expert Rev Med Devices 17, no. 5 (2020): 461-469, doi: 10.1080/17434440.2020.1745061.