50 Secrets Surgeons Won’t Tell You

Surgeons have our lives in their hands, but most of us know more about the people who cut our hair than the doctors who cut our bodies. Here, insider tips to become a smarter, healthier patient.

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To know which doctor is good, ask hospital employees

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"Their word trumps an Ivy League degree, prestigious titles, and charm.” —Marty Makary, MD, author of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care

Ask about their complication rate

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"If they don’t have one, they’re hiding something or haven’t operated enough to have one. No one is immune to complications.” —Arnold Advincula, MD, division chief, gynecologic surgery & urogynecology, Columbia University Medical Center

Practically all surgeons have an inherent financial conflict of interest

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"That’s because they are paid approximately ten times more money to perform surgery than to manage your problem conservatively.” —James Rickert, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Bedford, Indiana

If an airline told you that their pilot is the best but he’s not FAA-certified, would you get on the plane?

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"For the same reason, always check if your surgeon is board-certified in his specialty. Many are not.” [Visit absurgery.org.] —Tomas A. Salerno, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Don’t assume your primary care doctor’s recommendation is best

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"Referrals may be politically motivated or be given because the doctors work within the same multi-specialty group.” —Howard Luks, MD, chief of sports medicine and arthroscopy at Westchester Medical Center and University Orthopaedics

Ask if you can talk to former patients

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"It’s like getting references for a babysitter.” —Marc Gillinov, MD, author of Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You’ll Ever Need

Some surgeons won’t mention procedures they don’t know how to do

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"I’ll see patients who were told they needed an open hysterectomy, even though it could be handled laparoscopically. That’s one reason it’s good to get a second opinion.” —Arnold Advincula, MD

Always ask ‘Who is going to take care of me after surgery?’

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"You want to hear ‘I will see you on a regular basis until you have recovered fully.’ Often it can be residents or physician’s assistants. Sometimes it’s not anybody, especially after you’ve been discharged from the hospital.” —Ezriel “Ed” Kornel, MD, clinical assistant professor of neurological surgery at Cornell University

It’s better to have an elective surgery early in the week

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"Lots of doctors go away for the weekend and won’t be around to make sure you’re OK. If you go in on a Friday, and then on Saturday or Sunday something icky is coming out of your incision, you’re going to get someone who’s covering for your surgeon.” —General surgeon who blogs under the name Skeptical Scalpel

Some doctors hire practice management consultants to help capture more revenue

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"The consultants may want the practice to sell equipment like knee braces or walkers at a markup. They may want the doctors to buy or build a surgery center to capture facility fees. They usually want orthopedic surgeons to get an in-office MRI. Every time a doctor does this, he becomes more financially conflicted. As soon as you put in an MRI machine, you order more MRIs so you won’t lose money on it.” —James Rickert, MD

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