Ask Dr. Wills: What Questions Should I Ask My Spine Surgeon?
Spine treatment options can be complex. Summit Orthopedics spine surgeon Dr. Nick Wills discusses the questions to ask when you are evaluating your treatment options.
When you are evaluating spine treatments, knowing the right questions to ask is half the battle. “You have to know the questions—and you have to know how to evaluate the answers you get,” says Summit spine surgeon Dr. Nick Wills. He shares the questions he would ask, and explains why they are important.
Question 1: Are there conservative as well as surgical treatments for your condition?
“Some practices are surgically based and don’t offer nonoperative resources that might be useful,” explains Dr. Wills. “At Summit, we have the nonoperative physicians and physical therapists to offer conservative treatments. Often, therapy, injections, and other conservative treatments can resolve a patient’s condition so that surgery isn’t necessary. If a practice doesn’t have those resources, it’s less likely that you’ll be guided to nonsurgical options. At Summit, we have many different tools at our disposal to try to get people better. We don’t have to jump to surgery.”
Question 2: Does your practice have its own physical therapists, or do they refer you for therapy?
“At Summit, we employ our own physical therapists, and they work closely with our surgeons to monitor rehabilitation progress,” explains Dr. Wills. “Other practices may send patients to third-party physical therapy—they have less control over therapist qualifications, less communication about recovery, and they won’t be able to monitor patient rehabilitation as closely.”
Question 3: If you are considering surgery, how is the surgery going to be handled?
“I always want to know who is going to actually perform the surgery,” says Dr. Wills. “In some practices, the surgeon supervises, but the actual surgery is performed by a resident or fellow with far less experience. At Summit, when I do your spine surgery, you are getting me. I’m not down the hall in my office, waiting for a resident to expose the spine. It’s my surgery and I do it. This is important because a surgeon will have many more years of experience than a resident or a fellow. Personally, I’m not satisfied with the notion that my surgeon handles only ‘the important parts of the case.’ My question is: ‘Tell me what part of the case isn’t important. What part isn’t valuable for me?’ I feel that the moment a patient goes into the operating room, everything is important: the positioning, the anesthesia, the prepping, the draping, localizing the incision, doing the incision, dissecting down to the spot, and doing the surgery. There’s no part of it that’s not important. I want to make sure that everything is done properly. And who closes the incision? A PA or an intern? My PA has probably closed thousands of spine wounds, and he is excellent. An intern may just be learning to sew.”
“Everyone wants an excellent surgeon, and skill affects outcomes,” Dr. Wills acknowledges. “But there are other factors that influence the surgical experience, and they are the true differentiators in the quality of the patient experience. Surgery is intimidating, and when people are in pain, they want to feel as though someone cares. Wouldn’t you want that? I know I would. At Summit, we do everything we can to have protocols and procedures in place to reduce surgical risks and increase our patients’ safety and comfort.”
Summit Orthopedics is home to the area’s top spine specialists for neck and back pain treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or pain, the spine team at Summit Orthopedics will work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan to address your problems. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained spine surgeons are here to consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options.
More resources for you
Dr. Scofield explains the factors he considers when making decisions about which tendon treatment to use.
Meet the Expert: Doctor Bio Video Series
When you experience orthopedic trauma complications, Dr. Lund offers innovative treatments to help.