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According to an analysis by U.S. News, between 2010 and 2012, 11,000 patients died in the hands of hospitals that rarely performed the operation they needed.

Experts say those patients likely would have lived had the procedure been routine for the surgeons performing them.

While the findings have prompted several of the nation’s leading health care providers to impose minimum-volume standards that will bar hospitals in their systems from performing certain procedures unless both the hospitals and their surgeons do them often enough to keep their skill level up, they also reinforce the importance for patients to take an active role in their treatment.

Patients should not assume that a doctor is qualified to perform their surgery just because he or she is licensed to practice medicine. In fact, all a medical license means is that a doctor has had four years of medical school plus a year of training as an intern. Specialization in a certain practice area requires a longer period of time spent in that area to master the intricacies. Someone who specializes in knee replacements is not necessarily qualified to perform spinal surgery, even though both surgeries are performed by orthopedic surgeons.

“If you’re having a procedure you should absolutely ask as part of your going in, ‘How many of these have you done?’ And I wouldn’t settle for, ‘I’ve done a lot,’ because it’s a vague answer’,” says Dr. Peter Pronovost, Director of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Surgery

Choosing a doctor who is thoroughly trained and experienced in doing the procedure will help minimize the risks of surgery. Here are some questions you can ask to help ensure your doctor is qualified to perform your operation:

  1. What is the operation being recommended? Why do I need it?
  2. What is your experience with this operation? Do you perform it regularly?
  3. What is your success rate, and how often do your patients experience any problems?
  4. Are you board certified? Are you a member of the American College of Surgeons?
  5. Is the surgical facility accredited and properly staffed?

Additional Resources