“Choosing” a surgeon

We are often in conversation with a potential client (which always means some kind of medical crisis has already occurred) and we ask:

HOW DID YOU CHOSE YOUR SURGEON?

or

WHO PERFORMED YOUR SURGERY?

And, what we have learned, is that most patients don’t recall the name of their surgeon and feel they had little to no choice in selecting him or her for the job.

I understand this. Just this week a loved one was told he might need surgery and his previous surgeon said “I will be out of the office that day so my partner, Dr. X will perform the surgery.” He didn’t say “I recommend X” or “X has the most experience” or even “If it were me I would want X to do it.” He simply said “X will do it,” as if my loved one had no say in the matter.

That is the part that disappoints me. Sure, when you go to McDonalds you don’t usually get to say “I want Ellen to make my burger please” but when you have a significant thing like a surgery done, that could cost you your life, livelihood or at the very least, significant money and time, I want patients to know they do have a right to choose.

So how can a patient choose?

Here is a quick list of questions to ask and places to look to get more information on your Virginia surgeon, so you feel you can make a more educated decision moving forward:

  1. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Sure, it has been said that Doctors don’t like it when patients Google their condition, but the way I see it, sometimes I wish Doctors themselves would go on Google and get some additional information. Do some research about the procedure you may require, and the surgeon! Want to see if they have been sued before, check your County or City Circuit court records (Chose location, then Civil, then last name): http://ewsocis1.courts.state.va.us/CJISWeb/circuit.jsp
  2. CONTINUE THE RESEARCH. While the Board of Medicine in Virginia rarely takes a doctor’s license, sometimes they do discipline them for bad behavior or abhorent patient care, and this won’t often show up in a simple Google search – you must go straight to the source where you search by last name. http://www.vahealthprovider.com/search.asp
  3. ASK AROUND. Nothing come up online? Ask family, friends, call a local attorney or Pastor – and ask the blunt question – “I have been told I need to have a procedure, and this is the surgeon who has been assigned – what do you know?”
  4. ASK THE SURGEON DIRECT QUESTIONS. Please, please please – ask the surgeon AND anesthesia team the following questions: (a) How many of these do you do in a year? (b) When was the last one of these you handled yourself? (c) Where – was it at this hospital? (d) Are you the most experienced surgeon in this hospital on this procedure? (e) Who else will be in the OR with you? (f) If I don’t want students or residents as part of the procedure, can I say no? (g) Aside from death – what are the worst complications you have ever seen? (h) How many other surgeries will you have that day? (i) How long do you expect the surgery to take? (j) Is there someone else in this region who you think has more experience than you?
  5. ASK FOR A REFERRAL. If you don’t feel comfortable with the above answers, and your surgical need is not emergent – ask for a referral to a more regional hospital system. I would have far fewer clients and cases if families asked direct questions, and doctors were honest about their lack of experience in some areas. So sure, it might make a professional uncomfortable for a minute when you question their experience, but I promise, no real professional will be bothered.

So, I understand how it feels you didn’t really have a choice in your surgeon or doctor, or provider. But don’t forget – your body needs you as an advocate. Ask the hard questions, do some basic research and you might find a few red flags that point you in a new direction.

I don’t want you to become a patient. If you do, it means someone failed to provide adequate care, and their negligence caused permanent injury that would not have existed but for their really bad care.

Better to ask questions now, than regret it later.

Lauren Ellerman

Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.