I completely understand many patients’ fears and concerns before they see an orthopedic surgeon. You might be afraid you will hear you need surgery. You might think a sports medicine surgeon will tell you that you can’t return to your sport or exercise. Some injuries
are worth getting checked out, unfortunately.
The visit to an orthopedic surgeon for a joint injury or pain can be a frightening experience as well. If you do need to see an orthopedic surgeon, or if your doctor refers you to see one, you should make the most of the limited amount of time you and the surgeon will have to discuss your pain or injury. Here are six tips that can improve your upcoming visit.
Find an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in your type of problem.
In recent years, the field of orthopedic surgery has become extremely subspecialized. General orthopedic surgeons do exist. Many now have added fellowship training in a subspeciality within orthopedic surgery, such as joint replacement, trauma, sports medicine, hand surgery, spine, pediatrics, etc. They tend to focus on patients with problems in their subspecialty.
Try to find an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the type of problem you have. For example, if you fell jogging and landed on your hand, you likely could benefit by seeing a hand surgeon for the severe pain and swelling at the base of your thumb rather than a general orthopedic surgeon or a surgeon who specializes sports medicine. If you are unsure of the appropriate surgeon for you, ask your primary care doctor. He or she should be able to point you toward a specific surgeon.
Bring a copy of the visit notes if you have already seen a doctor or another orthopedic surgeon.
You might have seen another provider for this problem, such as an emergency room physician, doctor at an urgent care facility, your primary care provider, or another orthopedic surgeon. If you have, it can be a good idea to get a copy of the medical records to give the orthopedic surgeon the best chance to understand all of the studies and treatments you have had up to this point. If the visit is for a second opinion from another orthopedic surgeon, a copy of your orthopedic records could be especially helpful.
Bring a copy of any x-rays or MRIs performed if you have already seen a doctor or another orthopedic surgeon.
Along with a patient’s history and physical exam, x-rays are fundamental parts of a musculoskeletal exam for an orthopedic surgeon. If you have had x-rays taken for this problem at your primary care doctor’s office, a hospital emergency room or urgent care facility, or another orthopedic surgeon, get a copy of the x-rays. The office can usually burn the images onto a CD that you can take to the orthopedic surgeon. The same rule applies to other studies, like CTs and MRIs.
Also, try to get the actual images and not just the radiologist’s report. Bringing the films allows the orthopedic surgeon the best opportunity to properly diagnose your problem and plan the treatment. Plus it avoids potentially having to repeat the studies.
Fill out any medical questionnaires and other forms before your visit.
Physicians often have a great deal of medical information they must enter into your medical record, especially if it is your first
visit with this particular doctor. Frequently doctors obtain this information by asking you to fill out medical history forms. Completing these forms can often take a good deal of time. Filling them out ahead of time can move you out of the waiting room and into an exam room much quicker. Plus it gives you the opportunity to look up information you might not remember immediately, such as specific medication doses.
Ask the person scheduling your appointment to send you a copy of these forms when you make the appointment and bring the completed forms with you.
Write down a brief timeline of your injury and treatments.
It is not uncommon for a patient to have neck or shoulder pain or some other musculoskeletal injury for months prior to deciding she needs to see an orthopedic surgeon. It can be difficult to remember specific details of your problem. When and how did the problem start? What treatments you have tried? Rather than scrambling to remember the details in the exam room, spend a few minutes before the visit writing down that information.
When and how did the pain start? What activities make the pain worse? Have you tried any medications? Have you had a few sessions of physical therapy or injections recommended by another provider? Have you avoided activities that cause pain? Have you had any x-rays or MRIs for the problem? These questions and more can be helpful sources of information for an orthopaedic surgeon. Take a few minutes before the visit to provide him that kind of history.
Write down your list of questions before you see an orthopedic surgeon.
If you have been fighting knee or back pain or some other musculoskeletal complaint for a long period of time, you will undoubtedly have questions about the diagnosis and its treatments. It’s also important to ask questions about your ability to work, go to school, drive, return to sports or exercise and more. Often patients forget the questions they have had in their minds when they are actually talking to the surgeon. To make sure that all of your questions are answered, write them down ahead of time to ensure you don’t forget them.
To be fair, this article is not, in any way, meant to provide you specific medical advice. Instead, I am trying to offer some general suggestions when you see an orthopedic surgeon to make your visit more productive. While each of these tips might not apply in every circumstance, these tips can help you get as much information as possible and answer any questions that might arise.
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