Make an informed judgment on the abilities of your surgeon

How many of the 40 million plus patients undergoing an operation this year are truly informed of their surgeon’s track record?  I suspect the vast majority of patients entering the operating room today are unaware of existing, vital information that would enable them to make an informed judgment on the professional abilities of their surgeon.

Most patients who end up in a surgeon’s office are there because their primary care physician sent them to the “best” surgeon in town.  They arrive, blindly trusting the judgment of their primary care physician.  What I find even more intriguing is that most primary care physicians are also unaware of the same existing, vital information necessary for them to make an informed decision on the “best” surgeon in town.

When you sign (and probably do not read) that consent form for your upcoming hysterectomy, knee replacement, heart bypass, or laparoscopic cholecystectomy, you consent to knowing the what, why, and potential what if’s of the operation.  However, are you informed enough to consent to knowing the “who” of the operation?

Patients undergoing surgery today do not have access to compiled performance data and because of this, I believe, are prevented from making informed decisions on the competency of their surgeon.  Today’s medical (and legal) system intentionally blocks patient access to pertinent performance information, information readily available to hospitals, insurance companies, and federal government agencies.

Why is this?  Why do hospitals have access to specific data on every surgeon’s performance in your community when patients about to enter the operating room do not?  Why is the patient, the one most directly affected by it, prevented from accessing this data?  For that matter, how does a patient begin to research the “real”experience of their surgeon, uncover the “real” performance data.  The diplomas, residency, fellowship training, board certification, and societal memberships only touch the surface.  Many of these questions asked have no good answer yet.

I believe in total transparency in the surgical profession and it is time to open up the hospital/insurance company books and take a look at information the public is craving for … information necessary to give a real informed consent.

Paul Ruggieri is a general surgeon and author of Confessions of a Surgeon.

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