Not every surgeon can perform endoscopic surgery. To help you learn what to look for, we turned to some top minimally invasive surgeons. What would they ask a surgeon if they were patients? Here's what they said.
What are the surgeon's credentials?
"You need to ask why a surgeon is qualified," says Mohamed Ali, MD, director of minimally invasive and robotic surgery at the University of California at Davis. "Is this someone who only read about the technique last week in a journal? Or someone who has been doing them every week for years?"
"Surgeons should be board-certified in their fields," says Mark A. Malangoni, MD, professor of surgery at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. If they are, you know that they trained at an approved school and passed the basic examinations." Find out what medical organizations the surgeon belongs to, says Malangoni. "Being a member of professional organizations shows that a surgeon is up-to-date and meeting quality standards."
Is the surgeon skilled with different techniques?
Not all operations go as planned. While your surgeon may intend to do an endoscopic procedure, sometimes he or she may need to shift gears in the middle and switch to open surgery. In case this happens, you need to have a surgeon who is comfortable with - and good at -- both approaches, says Steven D. Wexner, MD, chief of staff and chairman of the department of colorectal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Florida.
How many of the operations has the surgeon done?
How many is enough? Unfortunately, there is no magic number, says Wexner. It depends on how common the operation is. But in general, Wexner and other experts say that the number of times your surgeon has done the procedure should be in the double digits - and preferably in the hundreds.
But while it's a relevant question, Mehmet Oz, MD, says that you ought to take the answer with a grain of salt. "The fact is that surgeons don't really know their total numbers," says Oz, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York. "It's very hard to remember. For instance, if I were asked how many minimally invasive mitral valve repairs I did, I bet I'd come up with a wrong number."
How often does the surgeon do these operations?
According to experts, this question is key. "Unless the operation you need is very uncommon, your surgeon should be doing them at least once a month," says Oz. "A surgeon who is doing them less than that would make me nervous."
What are the surgeon's success rates?
Ask about your surgeon's outcomes, says Ali. "There are people who may have done an operation a thousand times, but with horrible results," he tells WebMD. Ali suggests you compare your surgeon's success rate for a particular operation with the success rates published in medical journals.
Published Oct. 27, 2005.