8 Tips for Choosing a Neurosurgeon

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    A Personal Decision
    Just knowing that you need to see a neurosurgeon can be worrisome. Your primary care doctor may suspect or have found a disease or condition involving your brain, spinal cord, or nerves that could require surgery. How do you find the best neurosurgeon who is right for you? Here are some important factors to keep in mind.

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    1. Get Referrals
    Start with the referral list from your primary care doctor. You can also ask family, friends, and other healthcare providers for recommendations. Take the time to research the doctors’ credentials and experience on Healthgrades.com. As you narrow down your list, call each neurosurgeon’s office and ask for a consult appointment to meet and interview the neurosurgeon.

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    2. Research the Neurosurgeon’s Credentials
    Board certification is one of the most important factors to consider when you are looking for a neurosurgeon. It tells you that the doctor has the necessary training, skills and experience to provide healthcare in neurological surgery. Also check the neurosurgeon’s history of malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. Keep in mind that neurosurgery has the highest risk for malpractice claims. Claim settlements and arbitration awards may occur for a variety of reasons, which should not necessarily reflect negatively on the doctor's professional competence or conduct. You may want to use this information to start a discussion with the doctor about his or her history and specific ability to provide healthcare for you. You can find the neurosurgeon’s medical school, training hospital, certifications, and malpractice and disciplinary history on Healthgrades.com and state websites.

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    3. Consider the Neurosurgeon’s Experience
    Experience matters when you’re facing the potential need for surgery on your nerves, nervous system, or brain. The more experience a neurosurgeon has with a condition or procedure, the better your results are likely to be. Ask how many patients with your specific condition the neurosurgeon has treated. If you know you need a specific procedure, ask how many of the procedures the doctor has performed and find out about complication rates—complications the doctor has encountered as well as your own risk of complications.

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    4. Consider Gender
    It’s important to feel comfortable with your neurosurgeon’s gender because you will need to openly discuss personal information. Your own gender is also an important consideration when it comes to certain types of neurological diseases and conditions. Neurosurgeons are becoming more skilled in caring for women and men differently. Ask the neurosurgeon about his or her recent training and experience specifically related to your condition and your gender.

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    5. Research Hospital Quality
    Your doctor’s hospital is your hospital. For this reason, consider the quality of care at the hospital where the neurosurgeon can treat patients. Hospital quality matters to you because patients at top-rated hospitals have fewer complications and better survival rates. Do your homework! Two hospitals in the same town may report vastly different outcomes. Additionally, consider whether the hospital’s location is important to you. Take into account how often you or your family will be making trips back and forth to the hospital.

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    6. Evaluate Communication Style
    Choose a neurosurgeon with whom you are comfortable talking and who supports your information needs. When you first meet the neurosurgeon, ask a question and notice how he or she responds. Does he or she welcome your questions and answer them in ways that you can understand? Find a neurosurgeon who shows an interest in getting to know you, who will consider your treatment preferences, and who will respect your decision-making process.

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    7. Read Patient Reviews
    Reading what other people have to say about a doctor can provide insight into how a doctor practices medicine, as well as how his or her medical practice is operated. Patient reviews typically ask people about their experience with scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment, and office staff friendliness. You can learn about how well patients trust the doctor, how much time he or she spends with their patients, and how well he or she answers questions.

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    8. Know What Your Insurance Covers
    Your insurance coverage is a practical matter. To receive the most insurance benefits and pay the least out-of-pocket for your care, you may need to choose a neurosurgeon who participates in your plan. You should still consider credentials, experience, outcomes, and hospital quality as you select a neurosurgeon from your plan.

8 Tips for Choosing a Neurosurgeon

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., Seth Seabury, Ph.D., Darius Lakdawalla, Ph.D., and Amitabh Chandra, Ph.D. Malpractice Risk According to Physician Specialty. N Engl J Med 2011; 365:629-636.
  2. Neurosurgery Tops Malpractice Risk. Congress of Neurological Surgeons. http://journals.lww.com/neurosurgery/Fulltext/2011/12000/Neurosurgery_Tops_Malpractice_Risk.8.aspx




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