Most prospective weight loss surgery patients think that the most important criteria in choosing a Weight Loss Surgeon is surgical skill and safety. Thankfully, most surgeons who perform over 100 Bariatric procedures per year have an excellent safety record. In reviewing our data registry in the state of Michigan, we have data on the complication rates of 67 different surgeons. We have found that there is very little difference in the safety record of the vast majority of surgeons. Three surgeons had a serious complication rate less than 1.5% and four surgeons had a serious complication rate higher than 3.0%. The remaining sixty surgeons all had a complication rate between 1.5% and 3%. This tight coupling of complication rates should lend confidence to anyone who chooses to undergo Bariatric Surgery in the state of Michigan. The chances that your choice of surgeon will result in you suffering a complication that a more skilled surgeon would have avoided are less than 1.5%. Because most of us are able to perform these surgeries so safely, you have the opportunity to select a surgeon based on other, more personal factors without having to worry that you need to find “the best” to ensure your safety.
In my experience, there are two different types of Bariatric Surgeons: surgeons who perform lots of different surgeries, including Bariatric operations and obesity specialists who perform lots of Bariatric operations. Determining the difference is usually not difficult. If your surgeon spends little time talking about nutrition and exercise and is quick to pass that responsibility off to the nutritionist or exercise specialist, you’re speaking to a surgeon who knows how to do Bariatric operations. If your surgeon takes a detailed weight and dietary history, asks about your expectations after history and spends a good deal of time discussing the importance of good nutrition and exercise, then you’ve found an obesity speciality. While many programs have nutritionists and exercise specialists who are excellent at what they do, I believe that a Bariatric surgeon should know as much about these topics and be as equally invested in your lifestyle changes as he or she is in the surgery.
Most importantly, you should feel that you can trust your surgeon to help you make the best decision about your body. You should feel confident that your surgeon will be there for you after surgery and not just pass you off to the nutritionist if you’re not meeting your weight loss goals. When you come in for your appointment, ask others who are waiting if they are seeing the same surgeon and have they had a good experience?
Ideally, you can find a surgeon within a relatively short drive. Remember, you will likely have 10-12 appointments with your surgeon over your lifetime, so a two hour drive each way could become problematic. I would caution you against selecting a surgeon simply because they work in a hospital system that you’re familiar with. The transfer of records between physician offices is typically a simple matter so your surgeon should have little problem obtaining all of the necessary medical records. Also, your time in the hospital will likely be only a one or two day, uncomplicated stay. It is very unlikely that you’ll need your cardiologist, pulmonologist or internist on standby after surgery – significant heart or lung problems are very uncommon after weight loss surgery.