Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consumer Tips for Surgery

One of the chapters in my book, Unraveling U.S. Health Care, which is a guide to the health care system, addresses surgery and tips on how to vet your surgeon and find the optimal facility.
Finding a Surgeon
The best web site for researching surgical specialties is the American College of Surgeons, which allows consumers to look up surgeons by specialty and location. The web site for this is: For instance if you need a neurosurgeon, you can enter that and voila, the universe of neurosurgeons is revealed. These specialists are typically associated with university medical centers and large trauma centers. However, it is amazing that some health care consumers still think that neurosurgeons are available at rural 25 bed hospitals. Even if they were, why would you want to have this type of surgery done at that kind of facility?
Hospital Safety Rankings
Secondarily, it is worth your while to review hospital patient safety ratings before deciding on the facility. Methods to discern patient safety ratings of hospitals include reviewing the published information on, by going to the 2010 hospital survey and looking up your state and the targeted hospital. Another method is to go to the federal Health & Human Services Agency web site for comparing hospital performance. It allows you to look at multiple hospitals at once. The web address for this is and the site was recently updated to make it easier for consumers to use.
Reporting of Hospital Medical Errors
Another important aspect of doing your due diligence before undergoing surgery is reviewing patient medical errors and whether or not your state shares this information with the general public. Let me save you the time on this one, as I have reviewed all fifty states and the District of Columbia and the only states which required public reporting of hospital medical errors impacting patient safety were: Minnesota,Connecticut, and Indiana, The following states collect the data but do not necessarily make it readily available to the public or the data is not facility specific: Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. I will also mention California, but they have been criticized for not complying with a state law on the reporting of hospital patient safety data. Scarier still is the 2005 Montana Law that has been dubbed the "I'm Sorry Law" giving health care providers additional protections for adverse patient safety events. Though Montana is rural and retention of some clinicians may be an issue, it is still of concern when in 2003, they repealed the requirement for a statewide health database and now clinicians are given more protections than patients.
In terms of preparing for any surgical procedure, it is most important to select the surgeon and the facility, but also to verify the accuracy of the diagnosis, so getting second opinions are a good method if you have any doubt. However, given today's digital imaging, it is much easier to see clear images of tumors and other issues than in 1993 when I had my first big surgical event. So verification of the diagnosis is key.
Once the diagnosis is determined,the treatment plan needs to be discussed and planned. Adverse events, post surgical recovery, and rehabilitation need to be considered in any plan. I suggest using a healthy level of detachment and planning your surgery like a project.
Presently an agent is reviewing my consumer opus: Unraveling U.S. Health Care: A Guidebook to the Complex and Confounding U.S. Health System. I hope to have the publishing path decided soon and of course, I will keep you posted.
Ending with my usual penache the healthpolicymaven suggests that having surgery done at a local facility, one where it is easier for friends to visit, or with a clinician you like are not enough evidence to support a decision potentially involving your health and well being. Take the time to look up the data, as reviewed by independent third party nonprofit organizations or a government agency under the Health & Human Services arm.
And finally, to the douchebag patients who criticize surgeons for not giving them a back rub and serving as their psychologist, that is not his or her job. They are skilled at cutting you up and putting you back together quickly and with low margin for error, so forgive them if they took the cram course in bedside manner. For oncologists, whose relationship with patients is typically long-term the consultative manner of the M.D. is more important. Having had a few surgeries myself, I do not go into the operating theater thinking I am special, but I realize I am one of many in the sea of humanity and many whiny consumers would do well to consider this perspective. It doesn't mean you take less care in your research, preparation, or recovery from your surgery, it just means, have a little consideration for the brilliant hard working medical staff, especially the surgeons.
For an advanced peek at my guide to the health care system, you can read part of it on:
And this is your healthpolicymaven signing off.