Pick the Best Spine Doctor

Just because an insurance company sends you somewhere, does not mean that you will be getting the best doctor.  Insurance companies, most HMO's, and even some PPO's pick the least expensive doctors.  Some insurance companies reward primary care doctors who recommend the cheapest treatments.  Some workers' compensation companies only recommend doctors who promise to give low disability ratings or who guarantee to send you back to work immediately.  You want a doctor who is independent and works for you.

Check up on your doctor.

  1. Your doctor should either be board certified in neurosurgery or orthopedic surgery.  If he is an orthopedic surgeon, he should have done at least a one year fellowship in spine surgery.

  2. Did your doctor attend a well known medical school and residency (a major national residency such as an Ivy League program, Stanford or UCSF?

  3. Does he/she keep up with new procedures by attending classes?  Ask your doctor how many continuing education hours does he/she take per year?  Twenty-five hours per year is the minimum, but 100 to 200 hours is preferable.

  4. What percentage of your doctor's practice is devoted to spine?  At least 75% to 90% is typical of a doctor claiming to be a spine specialist.

  5. Will your doctor use conservative care?   Ask him or her what conservative treatments they use and if they will consider alternative treatments like acupuncture.

  6. Does your doctor make you feel comfortable?

  7. Is your doctor willing to spend the time educate you?

Necessary financial questions.

  1. Does your doctor take your insurance?

  2. How much does your doctor charge?

  3. Is your doctor willing to give you a discount for prompt payment?

Ask about your medical testing.

  1. Is the test needed?

  2. What will it tell us?

  3. How much will it cost?

  4. What will happen to me during the test (painful, claustrophobia)?

  5. What is my treatment plan?

Discuss your treatment

  1. Why is this procedure needed?

  2. How much does it cost?

  3. What is the likelihood of success ?

  4. What is the chance of a complication?

  5. Is there anything that I can do that is less invasive?

  6. What will happen if I don't do the treatment now?

Red flags (find another doctor if any of these are true).

  1. Your surgeon allows no questions

  2. He or she seems annoyed by your questions.

  3. Your surgeon is too busy to spend time with you.

  4. He or she makes you feel stupid.

  5. Your surgeon promises miracle cures. 

  6. He or she claims he is the only one who can do a particular procedure.

  7. Your surgeon uses scare tactics ("do this or you will be paralyzed").

  8. Anyone suggests "exploratory" spine surgery.

  9. Your surgeon will not consider conservative treatment.

  10. He or she will see you only if you are going to have surgery.

The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

Copyright 2007, Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group. All rights are reserved.  No part of this web site may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored, electronically or on paper, without the written permission of the Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc.
Last modified: 07/27/08