Six Key Tips to Finding the Right Bariatric Surgeon for You
By Justin Bessell, MBBS, MD, FRACS
When you decide to have weight loss surgery – whether it’s Gastric Bypass, Gastric Band or Gastric Sleeve/Gastric Greater Curve Plication – you will not be going on your journey alone. Your bariatric surgeon will take the trip right along with you.
When it comes to choosing the right surgeon, it is important to choose someone who has the right combination of training, experience, compassion and commitment to ensure you get the best care possible. Be sure that the person you choose is an experienced surgeon, with a multi-disciplinary team. Whoever you choose to do your surgery, remember that that person should be able to provide you with more than just the immediate needs before and during surgery but also for the long haul to coach and motivate you after surgery. Here are the key qualifications you should look for when choosing a bariatric practice. Use them as a guide to help narrow your search for a doctor and ask about them before you make your first appointment.
The surgeons should be fellowship-trained and sub-specialty qualified. To start, one of the first things you should look for is a fellowship-trained surgeon. This means they are a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in General Surgery. Subspeciality-trained means in addition to the required five years spent in a general surgery programme gaining surgical experience, your surgeon chose to train for an additional two or more years (often overseas) focusing on enhancing his/her laparoscopic general and bariatric surgery skills. They will often nominate their subspecialty interest as being Upper GI or Oesophago-Gastric surgery. (Meet Dr. Bessell ).
Doctor discusses benefits and risks Everyone talks about the benefits of weight loss and the improvements you'll see to your health, but if your surgeon isn’t also upfront about the risks of surgery you need to ask yourself why? Bariatric surgery is serious surgery, and each procedure — Gastric Bypass, Gastric Band and Gastric Sleeve/Plication — just like any other surgery, comes with risks. Each patient needs to understand the risks and then balance the benefits vs. the risks before determining if surgery is right for them. If you aren’t clear on the risks or your surgeon doesn’t mention them, don’t be shy. Ask your surgeon to explain them to you so you can make an informed decision.
The practice supports a multi-disciplinary team Make sure the surgeon you choose has the right support in place to ensure success. Success after weight loss surgery includes not only an experienced surgeon, but also a team of nutritionists, psychologists and exercise specialists who will help you navigate life, food and fitness before and after surgery to help you maximize weight loss. Working with a multi-disciplinary team, with a support system in place for both before and after surgery, signals that your surgeon is committed to your long-term success. (Visit our Support Team)
Better than average complication and mortality rates. Even in the hands of the best, most experienced surgeons, complications and in some cases mortality does occur. It’s important to know the national averages: Gastric bypass has a mortality rate of 1 in 200; gastric sleeve's mortality rate is 3 in 1,000; and gastric band's rate is 1 in 1,000. You want to find a surgeon who’s either under or on par with the national averages. An experienced and skilled surgeons with a better than average rates will post this information on their website or talk about it in their seminar. If this information isn’t readily available or the surgeon is reluctant to talk about it, you need to ask yourself why and if this person is the right one for you. (See our results Blog.adelaideobesitysurgery.com.au, Oct 2011; Adelaide Surgeons report excellent results for Lapband and Gastric Bypass)
The surgeon is a member of OSSANZ Membership in OSSANZ, the Obesity Surgery Society of Australia & New Zealand, shows a commitment to the craft — a commitment to keeping up-to-date on the latest techniques and research. A surgeon who keeps up with the latest studies, research and techniques is the kind of surgeon you want.
The doctor gives straight-forward answers to the tough questions Most patientshave done a lot of research to help determine which surgery — Gastric Bypass, Gastric Sleeve/Plication, or Gastric Band— is right for them (see our article Blog.adelaideobesitysurgery.com.au, May 2012; Bariatric Surgery: Which operation is best?). A natural outcome of all that research is often a lot of questions. Be sure your surgeon answers all questions, but particularly the tougher ones like risks, complications and mortality in a straight-forward manner. Now is not time to have someone be evasive with such answers. However every once in a while you’ll have a question for your surgeon that is really better answered by one of his team members, and he’ll point you in their direction. It simply means look for someone who will be upfront and truthful about the procedure and the long-term commitment you’ll be making to lose weight and get healthy.
You’ve made sure the qualifications are there, spoken to your surgeon and asked the tough questions, now it’s time to go with your gut. Has the surgeon earned your trust? Do you feel he or she will offer you the best level of care? Will they be in it for the long-term cheering your successes and encouraging you through the tough times? If after talking to your prospective surgeon and the answer to those questions is "yes," then you’ve found the right surgeon for you.
Justin Bessell, MBBS, MD, FRACS, is founder of Australian Obesity Surgery & Innovations Healthcare, medical & surgical weight loss centres in Adelaide & Darwin.