Take care when picking a surgeon

You already know that surgery -- any surgery -- is risky business. There's always the potential for complications that could leave you worse off than before.

Did you know, however, that surgeons can have wildly different records when it comes to complications?

According to studies, some surgeons barely have any complications over a five-year period, while the average surgeon may experience a complication rate of four percent or less. A small group of surgeons -- around 1 percent -- is actually responsible for 32 percent of all malpractice claims in the same period.

That kind of information illustrates why it's so important for patients to choose their surgeons carefully. To protect yourself, don't go under the knife unless you do the following things first:

1. Check out your surgeon's credentials.

You should always check the state medical board to see if your surgeon is licensed. However, you also want to look for a surgeon who is "board certified." That means that he or she has additional training in whatever specialty he or she practices and has passed a much stricter qualification exam than a surgeon who isn't certified.

2. Find out if your surgeon has had previous problems.

You can check with the state website regarding discipline problems, but don't underestimate the power of Google. Many medical malpractice claims make the news -- especially when they're noteworthy and the claims are proven true. If your doctor's name is in the news in a negative way, make sure that you take note.

3. Look at online reviews.

ProPublica provides a rating for surgeons based on their Medicare data -- and they adjust the results to account for things like a patient's health and age to play fair so that good surgeons don't get penalized in the ratings for taking on sicker patients.

4. Ask a lot of questions.

Talking to the surgeon may be your best method of research. If you aren't comfortable with the amount of time the surgeon spends discussing the procedure or alternatives, steer clear. Trust your instincts and find someone new.

It's better to have to start looking for a new surgeon than go through a medical malpractice case. If your first choice doesn't work out, don't hesitate to start over.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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