If you have a hand condition or injury, you will want to locate a hand surgeon (also known as a hand doctor or a hand specialist) who has the expertise to evaluate and diagnose your hand or wrist condition and provide you with appropriate treatment options.
A hand surgeon is trained to work on hands, fingers, wrists, and elbows, and this type of specialist in hand surgery treats patients with conditions just like yours every day.
The right hand surgeon is the one who is not only technically competent, knowledgeable, and experienced, but who also has the personality and bedside manner that suits your needs. The patient - surgeon relationship is extremely important, and you need to feel completely comfortable with your hand surgeon before undergoing any procedure.
Where to Start?
When it comes to selecting a doctor—and specifically a hand surgeon—most people start by asking friends and family for a referral. If you have a family member or a friend who is a health care professional, you should ask him or her for any information on hand surgeons in your community.
More and more patients have to choose their hand surgeon from a health plan or insurance list of preferred providers, which usually narrows the list of hand surgeons to a few names. Your primary care doctor will likely have a preference for referring you to one of those hand surgeons.
Hand Surgeons' Websites
Due to a growing demand for information that is more reliable than the basic professional details available online, there is an increasing trend for physicians to create a website like this one where you can find medical information on hand and wrist conditions and their treatment solutions. You should look for hand surgeons’ websites that will not only provide you with hand surgeon–approved educational materials but will give you a "feeling" for the doctor’s personality, practice, and level of accessibility.
Most people do not buy a new household appliance without checking consumer ratings. You can do the same with doctors, but here’s a word of caution.
Physician rating websites such as HealthGrades, Vitals, and RateMDs are not reliable. One unhappy patient can make many negative comments about a physician, using a different name and, in this way, negatively impact the doctor’s good reputation. On the other hand, physicians themselves could use a different user name to give themselves glowing comments about their own practice.
Hand Surgeon Subspecialty Board Certification
It is often assumed that hand surgeons are orthopedic surgeons who, in addition to five years of orthopedic surgery training, have completed one to two years of hand surgery fellowship training. However, those surgeons who have completed plastic surgery or general surgery residency can complete hand surgery fellowship training and hand surgery subspecialty boards to practice hand surgery. Depending on your comfort level and needs, you may want to inquire about your hand surgeon's residency training.
At a minimum, you should check with your state medical board to make sure the hand surgeon's license is valid and whether he or she has faced any disciplinary action.
You will want to choose a hand surgeon who is board certified, which means that in addition to orthopedic, plastic, or general board certification, the hand surgeon has passed a rigorous certifying examination in the subspecialty of hand surgery.
Hand Surgeon's Experience
For most patients, the two most important reasons for choosing their hand surgeon are experience and bedside manner. Older hand surgeons will obviously have more experience; however, the younger hand surgeons may be on top of surgical advances and more open to using new surgical techniques. Both can be equally excellent surgeons. That decision is up to you.
Hand Surgeon's Personality
If your initial visit with your hand surgeon does not go well or as you planned it, it does not mean that he is a bad doctor or that you are a bad patient. It is more likely that your personalities don't work well together. In addition, don't be afraid to ask your hand surgeon to recommend another surgeon for a second opinion. Keep in mind that there can be multiple solutions to the same problem, which may place you in a position of looking for a third opinion.
Once you’ve done your homework to find a hand surgeon (asking friends and family, consulted your family doctor, and reviewed the provider list from your health insurer), make a get-acquainted appointment with the hand surgeon you prefer.
Bring any vital medical records with you and be prepared to ask questions. Discuss your hand condition. Expect the hand surgeon to examine you, perhaps take x-rays, and then lay out your options. Even draw pictures or refer to drawings of how a procedure is done.
If you feel comfortable that the hand surgeon knows your condition and your wishes, then together you can make a treatment decision. If you don’t feel comfortable or if the visit didn’t answer your concerns, then you may want to meet with another hand surgeon on your list.
Trust your instincts and be actively in charge of your own health.