Top Weight Loss Surgical Doctors - 4 Steps to Finding the Right Surgeon

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Honing in on the best weight loss surgeon and team of bariatric doctors requires specific knowledge and proper guidance.

This page explains the 4 steps required to find the bariatric surgeon that’s right for you…

Bariatric Doctors

Before beginning your search for the ideal surgeon, you should have a solid understanding of the individual components of bariatric surgery and all the ways they will effect you. Click the following links to round out your research…

Hear it straight from the source

If you’d rather skip the reading and learn more about weight loss surgery and your specific options directly from a qualified surgeon, click here to find a qualified bariatric surgeon in your area. Most surgeons offer free seminars and one-on-one consultations to review your options and discuss your specific situation.

If you don’t have a solid high-level understanding of the above points, it may be difficult to effectively select the best surgical team.

Bariatric Doctors

There are thousands of great bariatric doctors to choose from, some that may have convenient locations right down the street and others located literally on the other side of the world.

Bariatric Surgeon vs. Bariatrician

They’re not the same thing!

While bariatric surgeons perform weight loss surgery, bariatricians (sometimes called bariatric doctors) help patients lose weight without surgery. Bariatricians are a good first step before moving forward with surgery…ask your primary care physician (family doctor) for a referral.

The goal of Step 2 is to find at least two surgeons that have the necessary qualifications. Following are things to consider…

1. Insurance by Country

Click or see below for details about bariatric insurance by country.

Australia Insurance – Click here

Canada Insurance – Click here

United States – see below

Bariatric Doctors

During Step 2, you should have narrowed your list of potential bariatric doctors down to one or two well-qualified surgeons. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper…

Step 3 determines which bariatric doctors on your list are worthy of face-to-face interviews…

  1. Call each surgeon’s office and sign up to attend their next free seminar
  2. Print out our Bariatric Surgeon Questionnaire (one for each surgeon on your list)
  3. While attending the seminar, take notes on the printed questionnaire, and be sure to ask any of the questions that are not covered

In addition to meeting the surgeons and learning more about their practice, responses to the following questions (also provided on the questionnaire with blank spaces for your notes) will either remove a weight loss surgeon from your list or give you a better idea of what to ask them during face to face interviews in the 4th and final step.

Please click below for more details.

Question: What percentage of your practice’s patients are bariatric surgery patients?

The higher the percentage, the better. Bariatric surgery is a complicated procedure that demands complete attention and expertise. Finding a practice that is primarily focused on bariatric medicine and related treatment ensures that their expertise is not spread too thin.

Question: What types of weight loss procedures does the surgeon perform?

Find out not only which procedures they focus on but whether they perform the majority of them open or laparoscopically. Laparoscopic surgery is generally preferable, although there are circumstances where open surgery may be necessary.

During your preliminary research, you should have honed in on one or two weight loss surgery procedures that you feel fit you best. If one of the bariatric doctors on your list focuses primarily on surgeries that you are not interested in, remove that surgeon from your list.

Question: How many bariatric procedures of each type does your practice AND the surgeon perform per year?

To meet the Surgical Review Corporation’s Bariatric Centers of Excellence criteria, each bariatric weight loss center must conduct at least 125 weight loss operations per year and have at least two credentialed and experienced bariatric surgeons who perform at least 50 weight loss operations per year.

What’s more, it appears that the more cases a surgeon performs per year, the less likely the patient is to experience complications.

One study of over 3,400 patients and 31 surgeons found that for each additional 10 surgeries per year a surgeon performed, the risk of a serious complication decreased by 10% (1).

In another study, a surgeon was evaluated over his first 300 patients. When comparing patients 201 to 300 with patients 1 to 200, the 201-300 group had 89% fewer reoperations (1 vs. 9), 50% fewer coversions to open surgery (1 vs. 2) and was in surgery for 69 fewer minutes on average (2).

Question: What are the surgeon’s complication and mortality rates?

In general, the rates should be in the same range as the rates reviewed on our Bariatric Surgery Complications page. Keep in mind that some surgeons specialize in treating higher risk patients (i.e. patients with a body mass index over 50), and those specialists understandably have higher complication and mortality rates.

Question: How long will you have to wait for surgery after you get approved?

Depending on your level of urgency, a long wait time may be unacceptable. However, you might want to consider that a long wait time could be due to the surgeon’s good reputation and therefore a positive thing

Question: Are the professionals on the surgeon’s pre- and post-care team well-qualified?

Following are the professionals you will be working with in addition to your weight loss surgeon:
  • Bariatric program coordinator/director
  • Bariatric nurses supporting the surgeon before, during and after surgery
  • Anesthesiologist – how many years and how successfully has the anesthesiologist worked with obese patients? Get the anesthesiologist’s name and click here to confirm that they have been certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA).
  • Psychologist – make sure there is one on staff or in close partnership with your surgeon and that they specialize in bariatrics. The psychologist will work with you before surgery and should be available for counseling afterwards.
  • dietitian or nutritionist – ensure that your surgeon works closely with a registered dietitian or nutritionist for pre- and post-surgical consultations. They are an extremely important resource for both helping you establish your short and long-term diet plans and overcoming any bariatric diet related obstacles.
  • Fitness advisor – do they work directly with anyone who can help you establish an appropriate weight loss surgery exercise program or, at a minimum, refer you to a personal trainer experienced in working with bariatric patients.
  • Weight loss surgery support group– does their office have pre- and post-surgery support groups in place? If so, is there just one, or are there different groups for different needs (i.e. diet, exercise, recovery, procedure-specific,etc.)
  • Patients who regularly attend support groups have been shown to have better long-term outcomes. While you can and should find additional offline and online weight loss support on your own, working with a surgeon or bariatric weight loss center that has their own programs will make finding and joining one near you much easier.
  • Insurance coordinator (if you have insurance) – as reviewed on our Bariatric Surgery Insurance page, getting surgery approved is often a grueling process. Offices with a coordinator on staff can make the process a whole lot easier.

Question: Will another doctor be assisting the surgeon during surgery? If so, what are the assistant’s qualifications and how involved will he/she be in your treatment?

Make sure that the surgeon will be the one coordinating and performing the surgery. In addition, any staff or nurses assisting the surgeon should be primarily focused on assisting bariatric surgery patients (again, you don’t want the professionals operating on you to be spread between multiple areas of expertise) and be taking continuing education classes relating to the care of bariatric patients.

Question: Does the surgeon have a short and long-term follow up program to work with you after surgery?

There should be a detailed plan in place to help you transition to and maintain a healthy life after weight loss surgery with the involvement of many of the professionals listed above.

Question: Are your facilities equipped to handle obese patients?

Not only will things like bigger waiting room chairs and hospital beds along with a staff trained in obesity empathy make you feel more comfortable and relaxed, they also show you that you are dealing with a compassionate surgeon who has your best interests in mind.

During Step 4, you will interview each of your remaining surgeons in person in order to choose the one that’s right for you.

Bariatric Doctors

In all likelihood, each of the surgeons that passed Steps 2 and 3 will be an excellent choice. Step 4 is all about:

  1. Choosing the surgeon and bariatric weight loss center that “just feels right” and
  2. Learning more about what to expect

To begin Step 4, find out if you can attend a bariatric surgery support group offered by the surgeon’s office. In addition to giving you a first hand account of what it was like for other patients to be treated by your surgeon, attending a support group meeting will give you a much better understanding of what’s to come.

After you attend the support group meeting, it’s time to schedule your face-to-face interview with each surgeon. The purpose of your interview is to get answers to your remaining questions and to get a better feel for the surgeon.

The questions in the Face-to-Face Interview section on the Bariatric Surgeon Questionnaire will get you started, but they are only a general guideline. Ask any and all questions that come to mind. Good bariatric doctors will be glad that you are doing your research and will be happy to provide answers.

Procedure-Specific Questions

Consider asking these additional questions depending on which procedures you are interested in:

Gastric sleeve surgery: Since there is limited long-term research available for gastric sleeve surgery, can you help me understand why you think this procedure will continue to be effective over the long-term? What procedures are you familiar with for tightening a stretched stomach? Also ask about leaks as indicated under gastric bypass above.

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery: What steps do you take to ensure that no leaks occur after surgery? In order to prevent leaks, your surgeon should check the surgical connections a number of different ways before completing the operation, including (1) blowing air into the connection and observing whether any gets through and (2) using a dye to check for a leak.

Lap band surgery: What technique do you use to place the band: pars flaccida or perigastric? Bariatric doctors performing the pars flaccida technique (PFT) when placing the band see up to 22% fewer lap band reoperations than doctors using the perigastric technique (PGT) (3).

Duodenal switch surgery: I’ve read that DS surgery can be especially appropriate and effective for the super-obese, but its higher complication rate coupled with a super-obese patient’s increased risk for complications demand careful consideration. What is your feeling about this? Also ask about leaks as indicated under gastric bypass above.

Gastric Balloon: How long can I have my balloon in place for? How much weight can I expect to lose by the time the balloon is removed? After my balloon is removed what are my weight loss options?

vBloc Therapy: If my device malfunctions, what is the removal process? Are there any daily routines that will be affected by the device, like bathing? How effective is vBloc Therapy compared to other procedures?

AspireAssist Device: How difficult is it to incorporate aspiration into my daily routine? Can I have the system removed and what are my other weight loss options if I do? Will I need a psychological evaluation before I get the device?

After interviewing each of the bariatric doctors, how do you decide which one to choose? It comes down to how personally comfortable you are with each surgeon.

Maybe one office was more relaxing and their staff more welcoming. Maybe one of their aftercare plans seemed more well-planned and thorough. Maybe one surgeon’s former patients seemed more pleased with their experience. Maybe one surgeon “just felt better.”

Regardless of which one you choose, if they passed the above 4-Step process, their support group had positive things to say and you felt good about them during their seminar and the interview, you should feel confident that you have chosen a great surgeon.

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References

  1. Bueter M, Maroske J, Thalheimer A, et al. Short- and long-term results of laparoscopic gastric banding for morbid obesity. Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2008;393:199–205.
  2. Centers of excellence in bariatric surgery: design, implementation, and one-year outcomes. Don W. Bradley, Bal K. Sharma. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases – September 2006 (Vol. 2, Issue 5, Pages 513-517, DOI: 10.1016/j.soard.2006.06.005)
  3. Edward H. Livingston. Bariatric Surgery Outcomes at Designated Centers of Excellence vs Nondesignated Programs. Arch Surg. 2009;144(4):319-325.
  4. Smith MD, et al. Relationship between surgeon volume and adverse outcomes after RYGB in Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) study. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases – 4 March 2010 (Vol. 6, Issue 2, Pages 118-125, DOI: 10.1016/j.soard.2009.09.009)
  5. Pournaras DJ, et al.  Three Hundred Laparoscopic Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypasses: Managing the Learning Curve in Higher Risk Patients. Obesity Surgery. DOI 10.1007/s11695-009-9914-7