Those who suffer from shoulder problems all desire a shoulder that’s pain free with a full range of motion. This is critical to enjoying everyday life and feeling productive and active.
But many people live with severe shoulder pain that makes daily activities difficult, and they find their range of motion is severely limited. If you’ve exhausted non-surgical treatment options, you may be one of 50,000 Americans who need shoulder surgery each year.
The shoulder is a complicated joint, and you want to trust your care to the best possible surgeon. So how should you go about searching for a top shoulder surgeon?
Ask for a Referral
A good place to start is to get recommendations from your local medical community. Your primary care physician will likely know who has a reputation for being a top shoulder specialist in your area. Ask them who they would go to if they or their loved ones suffered from shoulder issues. Also, ask any friends or family members who work in local hospitals or healthcare centers if they have any recommendations. Professional healthcare workers frequently hear the names of great surgeons in their day-to-day activities and can pass those names along even if they don’t know the surgeons personally.
Make sure you connect with any acquaintances or even friends of friends who have had shoulder surgery to get a full picture of their experience. Although you may not ultimately choose the same surgeon, having an in-depth conversation with them will give you a solid foundation as you begin to investigate all of the providers available to you.
Consider Your Insurance
Although many insurance companies allow you to choose a surgeon outside your network for lower coverage, it’s helpful to know upfront what your options are and who the surgeons in your network are. The more knowledge you have upfront, the more informed decision you will be able to make.
Once you have a few names from your medical community, it’s time to embark on some web research. Two helpful places to visit are Healthgrades.com and the surgeon’s own website.
From Healthgrades, you can read unfiltered patient reviews and access information about the surgeon’s medical school, training hospital, certifications, and any malpractice or disciplinary history the surgeon may have had.
Find out whether this surgeon is an orthopedic generalist or a shoulder specialist. This is important. The orthopedic generalist stabilizes wrists, feet, hands, knees, hips, or shoulders after a fall or accident, usually in an ER setting. You, however, should look for a surgeon who specializes in shoulders. The shoulder is a complicated and challenging joint, and expertise is required in order to ensure the best outcome.
Consider the surgeon’s credentials such as board certification, state licensing, recommendations from other shoulder surgeons, specialty training, membership in societies, and any published articles or research. Where did they do their residency? Did they do a fellowship, and if so, how many fellowships did they do? Ideally, you’d like a surgeon who completed a fellowship specifically in shoulder surgery.
Browsing the surgeon’s personal website can give you many insights
For instance, you can determine how proactive they are. A robust website often means the surgeon is intentional about providing patients with the best information. Does their website have resources about recovery and commonly asked questions? If so, the surgeons are ensuring that their patients are receiving the most helpful information that they’ve personally evaluated rather than leaving patients to figure it out on their own.
Does the surgeon have an “about me” page? If so, that may be indicative of a friendly personality who is willing to interact with patients.
There are other helpful things you can learn from visiting a surgeon’s website. Try to find out how long they have been performing shoulder surgeries and how many they perform each year.
Consider the Surgeon’s Hospital
Although the hospital is not as important as the surgeons themselves, it’s still something to factor in. Do some research on the hospital where the surgeon performs their surgeries and make sure it’s top-notch. Read reviews online to see if the staff is professional, friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to work with on financial matters.
Schedule An Appointment
After all this research, you hopefully have a shoulder specialists who stand out to you as a potential good fit. Your last step is to make appointments to talk with them in person.
If you don’t have a good feeling about a surgeon following your first appointment, then you may want to seek a second opinion. Surgery is serious, and you won’t regret taking the time to find the right surgeon who you can be confident in.
Here are some important questions to ask as you go to your appointments.
- How many total shoulder surgeries have you performed?
- How many of the specific shoulder procedures I need have you performed?
- How long have you been performing shoulder surgeries?
- How often do you perform shoulder surgeries?
- What are the possible complications and risks associated with this surgery?
- Will you be performing Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS)? If so, are these the most up-to-date MIS techniques?
- Have I thoroughly exhausted all non-surgical options?
Choose the surgeon who most thoroughly explains to you everything about the procedure—the risks, the benefits, the timeline, and the recovery.
Make sure you find a surgeon who is focused on recovery, not just what happens the day of surgery.
Consider communication style
Find a surgeon you feel comfortable asking questions to. Recovery is not always straightforward, and you want to have as much support as possible. Do they explain things in a way that you can understand? Are they approachable? Do they feel rushed? Do they take an interest in getting to know you as a unique individual? Do they seem willing to consider your treatment preferences?
Following these steps will take the mystery out of surgery day and allow you to feel like you are putting your shoulder joint in the care of the most deserving and careful surgeon. Hopefully, this will help to alleviate stress the day of surgery and help you to feel confident that you will be walking away with the best possible outcome.