Finding the Right Surgeon - Part II

(September 15, 2019) (updated June 22, 2021)

As discussed in Part I of this article, many factors should be taken into account when selecting a surgeon. It helps to do your homework on the surgery itself, so that you will be prepared to ask procedure-specific questions at your doctor appointments.  Once your surgery is scheduled, your doctor will probably direct you to a patient portal with tutorials or other information about your particular surgery. However, it is worthwhile to seek out other sources of information prior to that stage. Here are some possible resources:

Websites for Surgery Information

HealthGrades has collections of articles on various kinds of common surgeries, including hip replacement, heart surgery, ACL repair, skin cancer surgery, and more.
After you click on the procedure on interest, click on the link near the top of the page to  "view all articles" about the surgery.

PubMed: Medical literature search
Search thousands of academic journals for articles on your surgery or condition using PubMed database made available through the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/about/intro/

Videos of Surgical Procedures: Broadcastmed.com
You can also search for procedures using your favorite search engine, clicking "video" instead of  "all" to narrow the choices. On YouTube, sometimes there are collections of videos grouped by hospital or practice. Some of these videos are not for the squeamish; it might be that you can find one that has a corresponding transcript available, so that you can follow along (or choose only to read) what the surgeon is saying and describing. Preferably, choose to watch a video meant for educational purposes that is produced by a reputable web site or organization.

American Cancer Society has discussion forums on various kinds of cancers. Simply find the right forum, and type in the surgery name or just the word "surgery" into the keyword box.  https://csn.cancer.org/forum

Spine-Health.com has forums and articles on all kinds of spine surgeries. Here are some links:
Back Surgery Discussion Forum
Videos of spine procedures

Websites for U.S. Surgeons and Hospitals Information

Federation of State Medical Boards
Check your doctor's licensing status at state medical boards and find out what other states he or she has licenses in or has held licenses in the past.

American Board of Medical Specialties
Contains contact information for various medical specialty boards, such as the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery or the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. You can link to the boards to verify your doctor's certification. 

U.S. News Hospital Rankings, 2020-2021
Scores are based on several factors, including survival, patient safety, nurse staffing and more. Hospitals are ranked nationally by specialty and geographically by state and region.

Center for Medicare Services (CMS) Consumer Databases

Hospital Compare
This CMS database gives ratings on hospitals for various performance quality measures, including patient experience, payment and value of care, complications and deaths, effectiveness of hospital staff, and more. Much of this information has been updated in July 2019. You can compare up to three hospitals side-by-side. Includes Veterans Health Administration hospitals

Physician Compare
This CMS database is a directory of physicians that accept Medicare patients. It contains medical school, year of graduation, and where the doctor practices. You can search by zip code, city, or medical specialty area.

Open Payments Database
Now updated with 2019 data, use this CMS database to research payments that a hospital or a surgeon has received from the pharmaceutical industry. If you feel that a doctor is getting far too many payments for giving medical talks, this may be a red flag for you. Read more about the Open Payments Database on our website.

Nursing Homes Compare
Medicare web site's "Nursing Home Compare" tool can be used to look up the quality of a specific nursing home or compare nursing homes in a geographic area. Search by zip code, city, state, or facility name.  (While not relevant to surgeon ratings, the overall quality of care rating for the nursing home, where rehab might take place after surgery, is available.)

Surgeon Ratings Sites

1. Check out AskaPatient's article, "Comparing Popular Doctor Ratings Sites" for descriptions and pros and cons of sites where patients rate their experiences with doctors.

2.Check out surgeons' complication rates using Checkbook's Surgeon Ratings database and ProPublica's Surgeon ScoreCard database. Our article on Surgeon Ratings ("How to Find a Surgeon Part I") has descriptions of both databases.

Library Resources

Many authoritative health publications are not freely available on the internet, but may be available at your local public library or for purchase online. Check for books on your specific kind of surgery or health condition. The following comprehensive sources are likely to be in the reference section of your library in hard copy format or by log-on in electronic format:

The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests: a Guide for Patients and Caregivers, 3rd edition. Editor: Kristen Key
Covers 600 surgical procedures, medical tests, and related topics such as anesthetics, common lab tests and procedures, medications, and postoperative care. This four-volume hardcover publication costs over $500 so is best used at a library.

Surgery Sourcebook, 4th edition. Author/Editor: Keith Jones
This 768-page guide describes the most common surgical procedures, including appendectomy, breast surgery, carotid endarterectomy, cataract removal, cesarean section, coronary artery bypass, cosmetic surgery, gallbladder surgery, hemorrhoidectomy, hysterectomy, hernia repair, low back surgery, prostatectomy, tonsillectomy, and weight-loss (bariatric) surgery. Publisher: Omnigraphics Health Reference Series. List price: $95.

Gale OneFile: Health and Medicine
An online tool with academic and consumer-oriented journals and books, and videos, with many on surgery topics.