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6 Things to Do Before You See a Spine Surgeon

Have you decided you’re tired of living with your chronic neck or back pain and are ready to enlist the help of a spine surgeon? Congratulations! You’ve just taken the first step toward feeling better and improving your quality of life.

What you may not realize, however, is that there are a number of things you should do before you even walk into your spine surgeon’s office. These actions will help ensure you get the most out of your appointment and start on the road to a successful outcome.

1. Do your research.

You’re making your health a priority, so it’s important to spend some time finding a spine surgeon who will help you share that goal. Terms like “board-certified” and “fellowship-trained” are good indicators of a surgeon’s knowledge and expertise in the field. Websites such as www.healthgrades.com and www.vitals.com also contain great tools for finding a provider, including patient reviews of both doctors and their facilities.

2. Determine your treatment goals (and what you’re willing to do to get there).

What are you hoping to accomplish under your surgeon’s care? An athlete looking to get back into her sport may have different goals than a man who’s hoping to make it through his work day with less pain. Do you only want to pursue conservative, noninvasive treatments, or would you consider surgery if that’s the best option? Having clear answers for questions like these will help your surgeon formulate a treatment plan that’s right for you. 

3. Understand your health coverage.

You want to feel better, but you may be concerned about how much your surgeon’s services will cost. Make sure you know the details of your health insurance plan. Is your spine surgeon in network? Have you already met your deductible for the year? What is your plan’s out-of-pocket maximum? Do you have a health savings account (HSA) with funds you can use? Going into your appointment with this type of information will enable you to make decisions that work for you financially. 

4. Obtain copies of previous medical records.

If you’ve seen other doctors for your spine problems or tried different treatments in the past, your spine surgeon will want to know about them. Having your medical records can also help your surgeon put together a timeline of how long this has been going on and identify if there was something specific, such as an injury, that triggered it.

Even parts of your medical history that aren’t specifically spine-related are important for your surgeon to know.  This includes other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart problems, major surgeries, and your current medications. 

5. Complete any pre-appointment testing or imaging studies as required.

Some spine surgeons will want you to have a complete diagnostic workup prior to your appointment, including imaging such as X-rays or MRIs. While your surgeon can learn a lot of from your description of symptoms and your physical exam during your appointment, these additional tests will allow him to put together a more complete picture of your condition. 

6. Write down a list of your questions.

It’s a common occurrence—you walk out of your doctor’s appointment feeling good, only to sit down in your car and realize you forgot to ask the one question that’s been weighing on your mind. And it’s understandable. There’s a lot going on during an appointment and a multitude of information being passed back and forth. So, before you meet your spine surgeon, make a list of your questions and concerns. Refer to it during your appointment to be sure you’ve covered all the topics that are important to you.

Taking an active role in your health care is always a good thing. Consider taking these six steps before you meet with your spine surgeon. You’ll be happy you did.

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Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D.

About the author

Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..

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