Guide to Choosing a Neurosurgeon
If you have a neurological or spinal disorder requiring surgery, you will likely be referred to a neurosurgeon. It is very important to do your due diligence when choosing a neurosurgeon, as the surgeries they perform tend to be very invasive, relatively complex, and have higher-than-average incidences of complications. Your general practitioner and your local health network can provide you with information on neurosurgeons in your area, but at the end of the day, your choice of doctor is yours and yours alone.
Conditions Commonly Treated by Neurosurgeons
You may be referred to a neurosurgeon for the treatment of any of the following conditions:
- Meningitis (and complications of meningitis)
- Herniated discs
- Compressed nerves
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Cervical spinal stenosis
- Skull fractures
- Brain hemorrhages
- Accumulations of cerebrospinal fluid (hydrocephalus)
- Malformations and diseases of the vascular system
- Cranial nerve pain
- Peripheral nerve pain
- Brain tumors
- Spine tumors
- Spinal cord trauma
- Infections and neurological complications of infections
- Erectile dysfunction
Microsurgical techniques are widely used in the field of neurosurgery. Commonly used diagnostic techniques include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography scans (CT scans), and positron emission tomography scans (PET scans).
Things to Consider when Choosing a Neurosurgeon
Here is a list of items to consider when you are looking for a neurosurgeon:
- Consider the facility as well as the doctor. It's important to make a careful evaluation of the facility where you'll be having your surgery performed, as well as the facility where you'll recover from your surgery. What kinds of resources are available? What support services are available to patients recovering from surgery? How up-to-date is the equipment? What is the staff-to-patient ratio? What have past patients said about the care they received there? These are extremely important considerations, as your aftercare is a very important part of the recovery process.
- Look at the doctor's credentials. This isn't about medical degrees and schooling -- all neurosurgeons have completed extensive training and have passed demanding examinations to attain their positions. However, you should choose a neurosurgeon that has a proven track record of success performing the very procedure you require. When it comes to neurosurgery, the more experience, the better.
- Don't confine yourself to the local area. While it may be more convenient for you to have the surgery performed locally, the best available neurosurgeon may not be located nearby. If that's the case, don't be afraid to travel to have your surgery. Though it will involve an extended stay away from home, and while your costs will rise, it will be worth it if it means the difference between a successful resolution to your surgery and an unsuccessful one.
- Ask the doctor about complications experienced by former patients. Complications occur in a relatively predictable percentage of surgeries, and every neurosurgeon has treated patients who have gone on to have postoperative complications. You should be aware of this possibility and anticipate it by asking the doctor what types of complications past patients have experienced, how he or she responded to them, and how many of those patients went on to have a favorable outcome.
Before you make any commitments, it is always a good idea to seek a second opinion about your illness or injury before you undergo surgery. Doctors other than the ones you've seen may have different insights, or may be able to offer alternative treatments that could provide relief and make surgery unnecessary. Surgery is inherently risky, and this is even truer when you're dealing with surgery of the brain or spinal cord. You should only undergo a neurosurgical procedure if you are certain that no other treatments are available.