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How to Choose a Surgeon and Hospital for Major Surgery
Choosing a Surgeon
- Board certification—A good sign of a surgeon's competence is certification by a surgical board that is approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Surgeons who are board-certified in a surgical specialty have completed years of residency training and demonstrated knowledge and competence by successfully completing a rigorous examination.
- Fellowship in the American College of Surgeons—The letters FACS (Fellow of the American College of Surgeons) after a surgeon's name mean the surgeon has passed a thorough evaluation of both professional competence and ethical fitness. Fellows are board-certified surgeons who are committed to placing the welfare of their patients above any other consideration.
- Recommended by a commercial evaluation service—Particularly when outcomes data is not available for your state, hospital, or type of operation, you might consider using one of several commercial, online “Best Doctor” services. (Try searching the Internet using the term “best doctors.”) One such service, http://www.bestdoctors.com, uses a national survey method to solicit doctor recommendations from other prominent doctors. While using a doctor found by such ways doesn’t guarantee excellence, it does allow you to use a surgeon who has received multiple votes of confidence from his peers. These services frequently charge a fee for their recommendations.
- High surgical volume—Consider asking your surgeon how many of your type of operation they have performed in the past year. Many studies suggest that surgical outcomes tend to be better when surgical volume (the number of cases) is highest. A surgeon who does many of your type of operation each year will probably be a better choice than one who does few. But how many is “many”? Unfortunately, there is no definite answer. While some excellent surgeons can maintain their skills in doing a specific operation without continuing practice, if a doctor is not performing an operation like yours at least every few weeks, you have reason to consider whether a more practiced surgeon might lead to a better outcome. If your surgeon practices in a teaching hospital, be sure to insist that your chosen surgeon, rather than an intern or resident, performs the operation.
- Practice at a reputable hospital—Choosing a doctor who practices at a highly reputable, accredited hospital, may improve the chances of surgical quality while, again, not guaranteeing it.
Choosing a Hospital
- Accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO)—To determine if a hospital or ambulatory surgery center is accredited, contact your local or state hospital association, or call the hospital and ask if it is accredited either by JCAHO or by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Healthcare.
Rated highly by government, consumer, or other groups—Many government agencies and consumer groups rate hospital performance in one way or another. For example:
- Your state health department may be able to provide you with information about a local hospital’s quality; Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland, and Virginia, for example, currently have high-quality information on hospitals available to the public. Consumer Reports provides links to many of these sites. Healthgrades charges for some of their services, but does provide free comparisons of hospitals in a given region.
- The prestigious Leapfrog Group has an online hospital reporting system that, while not limited to surgery, shows the degree to which included hospitals comply with Leapfrog’s evidence-based, patient safety recommendations.
- US News and World Report publishes a widely received evaluation of US hospitals every year.
- Has experience and a history of success with your surgery—Most states collect some kind of outcome measures on surgery, such as mortality rates, and much of this information is available to consumers. Many healthcare providers also offer this kind of information to members.
- Checks quality of care and works to improve it
- Your doctor practices at the hospital (if that's important to you)
- Covered by your health plan
Planning Your Surgery
Getting a Second Opinion
Giving Informed Consent
Determining the Cost and How You Will Pay
Making the Right Choice
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality http://www.ahrq.gov
American College of Surgeons http://www.facs.org
Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations http://www.jcaho.org
Accreditation Canada http://www.accreditation.ca
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Birkmeyer J, Stukel T, Siewers AE, et al. Surgeon volume and operative mortality in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2003;349:2117-2127.
Chen J, Radford MJ, Wang Y, et al. Do "America's Best Hospitals" perform better for acute myocardial infarction? N Engl J Med. 1999;340:286-292.
Clancy CM. Do your homework before you choose a hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/061708.html. Published June 17, 2008. Accessed June 12, 2014.
Considering surgery? National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/considering-surgery. Updated March 18, 2014. Accessed June 12, 2014.
Krumholz HM, Rathore SS, Chen J, et al. Evaluation of a consumer-oriented internet healthcare report card: the risk of quality ratings based on mortality data. JAMA. 2002 Mar 13; 287:1277-1287.
Nugent WC. In health care, geography is destiny [editorial]. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2000;120(5).
Patient safety. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://www.facs.org/public%5Finfo/operation/who.html. Updated December 2013. Accessed June 14, 2014.
Public information from the American College of Surgeons. American College of Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.facs.org/public%5Finfo/operation/who.html. Updated June 4, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 06/2014
- Update Date: 00/61/2014