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What to Look for in an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Are you suffering from persistent neck or back pain? Do you find it difficult to carry out your normal daily activities as a result? Has your primary doctor been unable to find the right treatment for you? If this sounds like you, it is probably a good time to enlist the help of an orthopedic spine surgeon.

Even though they have the title of “surgeon,” orthopedic spine surgeons specialize in both surgical and nonsurgical treatments for spinal disorders. To help begin your search, we’ve put together a short list of qualifications to look for in a superior specialist:

1. A high level of training

Orthopedic spine surgeons complete several years of formal education and training. Find out where your potential surgeon attended medical school and completed his or her residency. Ask if your surgeon completed a fellowship in spinal surgery that provided additional, comprehensive training in all spinal diseases and conditions. Be sure to select a surgeon who is board-certified, which means that he or she is nationally recognized as having the highest level of expertise in this field.

2. Experienced in treating your spinal condition

Although orthopedic spine surgery is a specialized area of medicine, it still encompasses a wide variety of conditions. Whether you have an athletic injury or a spinal tumor, you want a surgeon with a strong background in treating your particular condition. If you need a specific procedure, ask the surgeon how many times he or she has performed that procedure and what the outcomes have been.

3. A strong record of patient satisfaction

Referrals from previous patients can be helpful. Ask your family, friends, and coworkers if they have had experience with the surgeon or know of anyone who has. The mark of a great orthopedic spine surgeon is patient satisfaction, and that involves more than just successful surgical outcomes—satisfaction is defined by an overall positive experience throughout the process. Pay special attention to low infection rates, close patient monitoring, and solid post-procedure patient support.

4. Proficient in using minimally invasive techniques and new technologies

Spinal surgery has come a long way, and you want a surgeon well-versed in the latest evidence-based practices and technologies to ensure that you receive the best possible care. New imaging systems allow for quicker and more accurate identification of the source of pain and may even be used to treat the pain itself. Finding a surgeon who is proficient in minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) can mean smaller incisions, shorter hospital stays, and quicker recoveries.

5. Fits your budget

The reality is that healthcare comes at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice quality. Once you find an orthopedic spine surgeon who meets all your medical requirements, don’t be afraid to discuss finances. A good doctor’s office will be transparent about cost and will work with you to determine your insurance benefits and out-of-pocket costs..

6. General sense of comfort

Nothing can replace that gut feeling you get when you know you’ve made the right decision.  When selecting a surgeon, you need to have an overall sense of comfort and trust. This is why it is so important to schedule an in-person consultation with any prospective surgeon. Do you feel comfortable talking to the surgeon? Did he or she appropriately answer your questions or address your concerns? Was he or she clear in the explanation of your condition and treatment options? Do you feel respected, like a partner in your own healthcare? The answer to all these questions should be a resounding “yes.”

Choosing an orthopedic spine surgeon can be an intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. Take your time, and do your research—you’ll find the right fit for you.

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Rojeh Melikian, M.D.

About the author

Rojeh Melikian, M.D. Dr. Rojeh Melikian is a Harvard and Emory University-trained orthopaedic spine surgeon. He was subsequently accepted into the prestigious Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program, where he excelled and was appointed as Chief Resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He received extensive training in complex spinal surgery, scoliosis, as well as primary and metastatic spine tumors. Upon graduation, Dr. Melikian was awarded the prestigious Harvard Orthopaedic Surgery Thesis Day Award for best clinical presentation for his work on spinal infections. Dr. Melikian has authored numerous presentations, posters and journal articles on spine surgery. Read more articles by Rojeh Melikian, M.D..