The decision to undergo a knee replacement is a major step toward reclaiming an active lifestyle. It’s important you feel confident in your choice.
Finding the right surgeon, one with a history of successful knee replacement surgeries, will help ensure you have a successful surgery and recovery. It’s critical you feel comfortable with your surgeon and feel you can discuss your concerns and questions openly with them.
Here’s what you can do to find the best surgeon for you:
Ask for Referrals
Your Current Clinicians
Check with your primary care physician or general practitioner for a list of orthopedic surgeons who specialize in or are experienced in knee replacement. Be sure to ask why those particular recommendations stand out. You can expand your list of possible surgeons if you reach out to other doctors and physical therapists, such as doctors who share an office with your general practitioner.
Check with Friends and Acquaintances
If you know anyone who has undergone knee replacement surgery, ask them who performed their surgery and whether it went well.
You will want to know if the surgeon you pick is covered under your insurance plan. Choosing a surgeon outside of your insurance plan may impact your out-of-pocket costs.
Local Orthopedic Departments of Excellence
Some hospitals have a department of excellence for orthopedic surgery. Check if there is one in your region and, if so, consult them.
Tap Online Resources
A number of online databases provide a way to identify board-certified knee replacement surgeons and to check their credentials. The following medical associations provide lists of qualified surgeons:
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,
- American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons
- American Medical Association
BoneSmart.org offers a database of joint replacement clinics that specialize in knee replacements and other procedures.
Evaluate the Surgeon’s Credentials
Review the Surgeon’s Education and Credentials
Spend some time reviewing the surgeon’s background, including:
Find out if the surgeon is board-certified and by what association. The three most common associations are those listed above. You can learn more about certification requirements by visiting each association’s site.
Check on the Surgeon’s Experience Levels
It’s wise to ask a surgeon how many procedures they perform annually. Studies show that surgeons who conduct 12 or more total knee replacements (TKRs) per year are more likely to have a record of success. Likewise, hospitals that perform 25 or more TKRs annually have the best track records. The best surgeons often perform hundreds of procedures each year.
Specialty and Training
Specialists in knee replacement gain valuable experience mainly by performing operations, but they can also expand their knowledge through continued education. This includes learning about:
- new technologies
- current surgical approaches
- new devices
If you think a specific device or surgical approach may be right for you, it’s important to determine if your prospective surgeon is trained in that area or is able to implant that device. Typically, in order to use a specific surgical method or device, a surgeon will receive training from the manufacturer. Hospitals sometimes prefer certain manufacturers and devices. By visiting a manufacturer’s website, you will likely find a surgeon near you trained in that technology.
At the same time, it’s important to respect your surgeon’s recommendations. They are best equipped to determine which implant is right for you. Work with your surgeon to understand the choice they make, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important to be comfortable with the technology they will use.
Experience with Special or High-Risk Cases
Be sure to discuss your complete medical history with your surgeon prior to surgery. This will ensure they are able to handle your needs and any potential complications that may arise.
For example, if you have any pre-existing conditions like anemia or diabetes, or if you have had other trauma that may complicate surgery, inquire about the surgeon’s experience in handling these types of cases.
Meet with the Surgeon One-on-One
Once you have compiled a short list of potential surgeons, you will want to schedule a consultation with each one. During these sessions, you will want to:
- discuss your situation
- ask any questions you have
- solicit their opinion
- decide if they are the right surgeon for you
Before the Appointment
Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your pain level and knee history. It may be helpful to take an online knee pain evaluation or assessment and print out the results to bring with you.
In addition, you should prepare a set of questions. Focus on what the doctor’s experience is with cases like yours, and what technologies they will use.
During the Appointment
During your appointment, explain any questions and concerns you may have. Ask the doctor about:
- their success rate
- their experience with cases similar to yours
- how often they have needed to bring past TKR patients back for revision surgery, and why
- if they prepare a surgical plan prior to a procedure, and what they include in it
- what computer-assisted technology they use
- whether minimally invasive techniques are a possibility
- the benefits and risks of the procedure
- where your surgery will be performed
Cost of Surgery
Insurance coverage will probably be a main factor in your choice of which doctor and hospital to use. You may want to call the billing office of each hospital directly to check on your insurance company’s coverage of the procedure. When you do, ask about the following:
- the hospital's track record with the procedure
- physical therapy options after the surgery
- cost of both the procedure and follow-up physical therapy
As you narrow down your choice of hospitals, do your own online research to check each hospital's quality record. If you have a preference in in hospitals, take that into consideration too.
Take Notice of…
Surgeon’s Bedside Manner
Monitor your interactions with the doctor and how you feel. A good surgeon will spend adequate time discussing your options and possible outcomes.
Office Staff and Environment
The nurses and office staff are your gateway to the surgeon, and they will help you schedule and prepare your surgery and recovery. Among other things, the nurses and staff will:
- handle your appointments
- arrange with your insurance provider
- register you for a presurgical prep course
- arrange your physical therapy
- order your recovery equipment
It’s important you feel comfortable around the staff and are sure that they:
- have genuine concern for your well-being
- will address your needs
- will provide you with good service
If the service isn’t up to par, it could negatively impact your experience.
Getting a Second Opinion
Be sure you consider a second opinion, even if you feel completely comfortable with the first orthopedic surgeon you consult. A second opinion, preferably at a different clinic, can give you valuable insight and perspective. You may want to visit three or four doctors, or more. If you receive conflicting information, don’t be shy about going back to each doctor and asking additional questions.
You will have many questions and concerns about your knee replacement surgery. In the making your final decision, be sure to do the following:
- Take your time choosing your doctor.
- Do research.
- Consult multiple doctors.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
You shouldn’t make a choice and move forward with surgery until you feel completely comfortable with the surgeon, device, and procedure. Your future health depends on it.