8 TIPS ON HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPINE SPECIALIST

AUTHOR: ROBERT TALAC, MD, PhD

TL;DR

Keep in mind that not all doctors are created equal. Spine care, and especially restorative spine care, has truly become an art form – you want to be sure that the spine specialist you select has an exceptional skills, extensive experience, and the talent to provide the results you are expecting. Choosing the right provider can make a dramatic difference in the outcome whether it is a simple neck or back soreness, pain or a complex reconstructive procedure. It can also save you years of unnecessary pain and frustration, as well as time and money

Keep in mind that not all doctors are created equal. Spine care, and especially restorative spine care, has truly become an art form – you want to be sure that the spine specialist you select has an exceptional skills, extensive experience, and the talent to provide the results you are expecting. Choosing the right provider can make a dramatic difference in the outcome whether it is a simple neck or back soreness, pain or a complex reconstructive procedure. It can also save you years of unnecessary pain and frustration, as well as time and money.

So, where do you start? Before you randomly select a doctor out of the yellow pages, or someone just because they are close by, or even consider your current massage therapist, chiropractor or general practitioner for spine procedures, think again. The majority of spine procedures are not reversible – you owe it to yourself to devote a little bit of energy to finding an expert.  A talented spine professional who will help you achieve the result want. You’ll be glad you did.

Here are some items you should research when you are selecting a spine specialist, who is right for you.

1. ASK FOR PROFESSIONAL CREDENTIALS

Your physician should be a member of or accredited by a major spine association such as the North American Spine Society (N.A.S.S.), American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) or American Academy of Neurosurgery (AANS). Members of these organizations care about their patients’ long-term spine health and satisfaction with their quality of life. That is why they participate in numerous continuing education programs to learn about the latest spine technology, materials, and procedures to improve their clinical knowledge and technical skills.

2. TRAINING – INQUIRE ABOUT EXPERTISE.

Each physician goes through two or three levels of post graduate training.

  1. Medical School – Here we earn a medical doctor degree, but we are only at the beginning of the real training to become an experienced physicians.
  2. Residency – This is a specialty training such as general surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery, anesthesia, internal medicine, or radiology etc. This training gives a physician basic knowledge and skills in a given specialty.
  3. Fellowship – This is a specialized training in a particular subspecialty of medicine (i.e. spine surgery, pain management, interventional radiology etc).

Keep in mind that the majority of advanced spine procedures are not taught in general residency programs and are not something a spine specialist can pick up by simply reading an article or book. Most highly skilled spine specialists learned their procedures on live patients at post-graduate programs (fellowships) that teach the latest techniques in advanced spine reconstruction.

Some of the top programs include the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Washington University at St. Louis, Thomas Jefferson University, University of California San Diego, University of California Los Angeles, and the University of California San Francisco.

Information about physician training are readily available on Internet. It is important to look at their credentials in context of your treatment. For example, if you have been told that you need a surgical procedure, make sure that your physician is a surgeon not an anesthesiologist or an interventional radiologist. There are procedures that are being done by non-surgeons, but if you have a complication you will have to find a surgeon to deal with it which may be a big problem.

3. EXPERIENCE – GET REFERENCES AND REVIEW TESTIMONIALS

Look for videos those are difficult to fake. Ask for a physician‘s “report card”.

A progressive spine specialist will collect data to evaluate and scrutinize the final results effectively. Examine the physician’s treatment results on other patients to make sure his or her work fits your needs. Quality oriented spine specialists collect the results of their work and information on the various spine procedures they provide.

Your physician should also be able to provide you with a reference list of patients who have had similar problem and treatment. Talk to them personally about their experience with the practice and how they feel about their results.

4. CONSULTATION – DEMAND QUALITY FACE TO FACE TIME.

Communication is the key to any successful restorative treatment outcome. A qualified, caring spine specialist will offer a consultation to give you the opportunity to sit down and discuss your specific needs and desires, ask questions, and review the procedure, expectations, and costs. The physician should educate you on the various treatment options available and recommend which procedures are the most appropriate for you.

5. TECHNOLOGY

Treatment of spine problems is a rapidly evolving field requiring 100% focus. Specialists focusing the majority of their practice on the treatment of patients with spine problems are likely to use the most up to date technology and techniques. Ask to see information on what technology the physician uses for diagnosis and treatment.

6. COST

A quality oriented professional will provide you with Good Faith Estimate. Trust and transparency is very important. Transparency is a good indicator that your physician is not only good professionally, but also a honest human being.

Don’t be misled by lower cost treatment estimates. Selecting a physician based on fees alone can be a disappointing venture. Don’t automatically go for the lowest bidder, they are most likely cutting corners by using lower quality equipment and materials, both of which can negatively affect your outcome. If someone is offering to do something at far below industry averages, be very suspicious. Focus on the value you will get.  Do you need to be admitted to hospital? If so, for how long? How long will it take to recover from the procedure? Is there any additional pain and discomfort?

7. FORM A BOND WITHYOUR SPINE SPECIALIST

Optimal spine health is a lifelong process that requires dedication and commitment on the part of the patient and physician. You want to feel comfortable enough to form a long-term relationship with your physician. An experienced and skilled doctor is confident that they are providing you with the best treatment available, thus should offer a long-term relationship.

8. THE ULTIMATE PATIENT EXPERIENCE.

Progressive practices are dedicated to exceptional customer service. They will provide quick and easy access to their practices in a timely fashion. Communication with your care team should be efficient and seamless.  They will make your treatment as comfortable as possible and make you feel confident in their abilities to care about you.

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PATIENT CHOICE AWARD

These awards reflects the difference the doctor makes in the lives of the patients. The honor is bestowed upon physicians who received near perfect scores, as voted by their patients. In fact, of the nations 830,000 active doctors, only 5% were awarded this honor by their patients. Dr. Talac received this award 3 years in a row.