With both amateur and professional sports enthusiasts, along with an aging population that has chosen Phoenix as the place in which to spend their golden years, there is a growing demand for orthopedic doctors in all types of specialties. There are currently close to 750 orthopedic doctors in the Phoenix area and yet for patients who are waiting to get in for their first appointment, the wait can be extremely long. What is it that makes these specialists so highly sought after that there never seems to be enough of them? How can you go about choosing the one that will be right for you?
If you have no idea what you are looking for, knowing how to choose the best orthopedic doctor can be a challenging position to be in. However, if you start off your search armed with referrals, information about specialties and credentials, and you know the right types of questions to ask, you can rest assured that you will be able to make your choice with a high level of confidence. An orthopedic doctor has completed four years of college and four years of medical school. An orthopedic surgeon has completed the same eight years but also will complete an additional one year in a general surgery rotation and four years of orthopedic surgery. An orthopedic doctor can be described as either a surgeon or a doctor. Both of them are able to prescribe orthotics, treatments, and medications, while the surgeon also has the qualifications to operate.
It is fortunate for patients that orthopedic doctors are able to choose from among a number of different specialties. This means that the orthopedic doctor that you see will be the best at treating the particular condition that brought you to them in the first place. While the whole field of orthopedics is quite complex, additional considerations such as bone and joint problems, the impact that congenital conditions, disease, aging, and injuries can have on the musculoskeletal system compound the demands on an orthopedic doctor’s time. Although there are a wide range of sub-specialties, the most common are total joint reconstruction surgery, sports medicine, elbow and shoulder, pediatric, orthopedic trauma, musculoskeletal oncology (cancer), foot and ankle, and hand and wrist.
How much experience do they have?
Although a very important factor is how long the orthopedic doctor has been practicing, it is also important to find out exactly what type of work they have been doing during this time. For example, if you are looking to find an orthopedic doctor who is able to perform work on your spine, it is recommended by the North American Spine Association that out of the time spent in the operating room, at least 50% of it should have been spent doing some form of spinal surgery.
What certifications do they have?
In order to be board certified an orthopedic doctor must go through a rigorous program. Along with the 8 years of schooling for non-surgeon orthopedic doctors, and almost 15 years for those who become surgeons, there is also a standardized exam that must be taken, and an oral exam that focuses on the doctor’s past six months of surgical and clinical performance. When the doctor that you choose has been board certified you know that the authoritative organization has validated their skills– the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada and the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery in the US.
Getting help from referrals
Having a referral can greatly assist you when deciding on the orthopedic doctor that you will use. It is likely that your primary care physician will be able to give you several different recommendations for you to look into. Also, since more than 80% of all Americans are afflicted with some type and degree of back pain, there is a good chance that a family member or friend can give you some names as well. As a last resort, your health insurance agency or local hospital may also have someone who is able to refer you to a qualified orthopedic doctor.
Never ignore the first impression that you get when you meet the doctor for the first time. Every year throughout the US there are 700 orthopedic doctors who are finishing their final year of orthopedic residency so there is no need to settle on the first doctor that you find. Ask as many questions as you need to ask until you are assured that the doctor is the right one to treat your particular condition. Don’t be shy about asking them exactly how they would plan to treat your condition, including the types of medication, therapy, and possibly surgery that they are most likely to be using.
Even though surgery may be the end result that you are looking for, sometimes a more conservative approach is the best idea to try out first. Do not dismiss an orthopedic doctor out of hand simply because they did not book you for the first available OR slot 15 minutes after you walk into their office. Keep in mind that there is normally a long recovery period after surgery. This can mean that you will be unable to work or participate in many of the activities that you love to do on a regular basis. It may well be worth giving an alternative method a go first, before you sign the consent form for any surgical procedure.
If you have discovered an orthopedic doctor who is not only relatively conservative, but also caring, compassionate, and shows a true interest in you having a better quality of life, then this may just be the doctor for you. To be completely sure that you are making the right decision, ask questions about their experience, thoroughly check their credentials, and check into any incidences of malpractice and possible disciplinary actions that may have been taken. If everything checks out, then best of luck. If not, continue your search until you are completely satisfied.