Choosing the Right Doctor for You: 20 Essential Questions to Ask at a Consultation

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Renato Saltz in May 2016

Before you trust a doctor with your body, health, and money, make sure they’re as qualified as they claim. “Be your own advocate and research, research, research,” says Dr. Renato Saltz, a surgeon in Salt Lake City. 
Read reviews, look at before and after photos posted by their patients (not just the doctor), and meet with them for a consultation, either in-person or via Skype, if they’re out of your area.

We recommend consulting at least three plastic surgeons (not their nurse or salesperson), so you can compare their answers and approaches. Use this list of essential questions at your appointments to get the most complete picture of their experience, qualifications, and what you can expect if you choose them.

1. Are you board-certified to perform this procedure?

What to listen for: In the United States, surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, as well as many physicians certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Ophthalmology, have undergone the most rigorous training, passed written and oral exams, and continued to adhere to a stringent code of medical ethics. Also pay attention to how they describe the credentials of their staff and their commitment to patient safety.

You’ll also want to check each surgeon’s profile on their state’s Department of Health website to see if any disciplinary action has been taken against them.

2. Where will my surgery be performed?

What to listen for: Your surgery should be done in a hospital or in an accredited outpatient surgery center that’s been certified for patient safety by the Joint Commission, the American Association for the Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF), the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), and/or Medicare.

3. How much will this procedure cost?

What to listen for: Your price can vary widely depending on the methods used, experience level of the surgeon, and location, as well as additional surgical or operating room fees, anesthesia, or post-op appointments. Ask for the all-in cost of the procedure for your situation and keep in mind that you’ll probably get what you pay for. If one doctor’s rate is significantly lower than the average price cited on RealSelf, ask yourself what he or she might not be providing and choose safety over savings.

4. Do you have hospital privileges for this procedure?

What to listen for: Even if your surgery will be done in an outpatient surgery center, hospital privileges mean that other doctors have verified their training and credentials. If your doctor is operating without hospital privileges and a complication arises, you could end up being sent to an emergency room without access to the best care.

5. How many procedures like this do you personally perform each year? How many do you do in an average day?

What to listen for: Choose a physician whose level of experience you feel comfortable with, and notice if they evade the question about the number of surgeries they do each day. Some RealSelf members have reported that the practice they’ve chosen operates almost like an assembly line, with one surgeon doing ten or more surgeries per day at what feels like an unsafe pace.

6. Can I see before and after photos of your previous patients for this procedure?

What to ask for: Insist on seeing recent before and after photos or videos. Pay special attention to patients who have similar features or builds as you, so you can get a sense of how your surgeon will tailor the procedure to your body type. Their office may even provide you with contact information for previous patients who had similar procedures and would be willing to answer your questions.

7. Am I a good candidate physically and emotionally for this procedure?

What to listen for: “Preparation for surgery includes four types of ‘clearance’: emotional, physical, laboratory, and emotional,” says Dr. Saltz.”A prospective patient must clear all these important items before being scheduled for surgery.” Are you unwilling to give up smoking? Do you suffer from body dysmorphic disorder? Be honest with your doctor to avoid serious complications down the line.

8. What will be expected of me before the procedure to ensure the best results?

What to listen for: Your doctor will discuss the steps you need to take before and after surgery in order to ensure the best results. Can you stop smoking? Can you take the time off of work that you need to recover? If not, you may need to reconsider your surgery.

9. What are the risks?

What to listen for: It's imperative to weigh the benefits versus the risks of any cosmetic procedure.

10. What specific techniques would you recommend to achieve the look I want?

What to listen for: The doctor should engage you in a dialogue about which technique will give you the results you’re looking for. If one doctor is significantly more willing than others to go to extremes, this may be a red flag. If others tell you what you want is too risky, don’t dismiss their opinions. What seems like a minor surgery can carry serious risks, and your health is far more important than your appearance.

11. What sort of anesthesia can I expect during my procedure?

What to listen for: There are three main types of anesthesia used during most surgical procedures: general (you're put to sleep), local (only the specific surgical site is numbed), and IV sedation/"twilight anesthesia" (your level of consciousness is altered). There are benefits and risks associated with each one. Talk to your doctor about your options.

12. Will anesthesia be administered by a board-certified anesthesiologist or nurse?

What to listen for: Your anesthesia should always be administered by a board-certified anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist. “He or she should be present for the duration of your procedure, as well as during your recovery immediately after," explains Toronto plastic surgeon Dr. Jerome Edelstein.

13. Will you be performing my surgery?

What to listen for: It's essential to confirm that the doctor you consult will be the same one performing your surgery. At some practices, you may have a consultation with a board-certified surgeon, only to be passed off to another doctor with inadequate credentials and experience. Be especially wary of practices that only allow you to consult with a “surgical coordinator” via email, without giving you the opportunity to speak directly to the surgeon who will be performing your procedure.

14. Who will be assisting you during my procedure? What are their qualifications and levels of experience?

What to listen for: A good surgical team — including experienced registered nurses and surgical technicians — helps ensure your safety and outcome.

15. How often do you see complications for this procedure in your practice?

What to listen for: Every experienced doctor has dealt with some sort of complication. Some issues have nothing to do with the skill of the plastic surgeon, but with the way each individual's body heals. Knowing how often your surgeon sees complications will help you confidently decide whether or not you'd like to follow through with the procedure.

16. If a complication occurs during or after my surgery, how will it be handled?

What to listen for: Even you're having your surgery in an outpatient surgical center, your surgeon should have admitting privileges at a local hospital in case of a serious complication.

17. Where will I recover immediately after my surgery? Will I receive continuous care by trained medical staff?

What to listen for: If you won’t be having your procedure in a hospital or will be traveling, your doctor may recommend a recovery facility. Some patients report being discharged to unlicensed facilities with little to no care, including inadequate food and water. Do your research on the options they recommend, and don’t be lured by low prices at the expense of your health.

18. How long will my recovery be, and will I need help?

What to listen for: It's important to know what to expect after surgery and how long your recovery period will last. When can you pick up your kids? When can you start driving again or return to work? You will probably need a caregiver to drive you to and from your surgery and stay with you for 24 hours after your procedure. Your doctor will explain the post-surgical guidelines appropriate to your procedure and needs.

19. Who will be handling follow-up care and visits?

What to listen for: Recovery care can be just as important to your outcome as the surgery itself. If your surgeon won't be directly providing care during your follow-up visits, you should be seen by a registered nurse who can immediately alert and involve the doctor if they have any concerns about how you're healing.

20. What will happen if I'm not satisfied with my results?

What to listen for: Each surgeon has his or her own policy regarding revision surgery. Assuming adequate healing, many doctors will charge a reduced surgical fee, however anesthesia and facility costs will remain fixed. Ideally, these details should be outlined prior to the original procedure. The best way to avoid having to undergo a revision is to make sure you have an honest relationship with a surgeon you trust, and that both or you are on the same page before entering the operating room.

This guide has been medically reviewed for accuracy by board-certified Salt Lake City plastic surgeon Dr. Renato Saltz. Dr. Saltz has practiced and taught plastic surgery at the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Utah Wasatch Clinics. In 2002, Dr. Saltz left his eight-year position as Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery and the Director of the Summit Plastic Surgery Center at the University of Utah to fulfill a lifelong dream of opening his own plastic surgery clinic. He specializes in facial rejuvenation, body contouring (including tummy tuck and liposuction), and breast augmentation, including reconstruction after mastectomy. Learn more on his RealSelf profile.

Disclaimer: This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare professional. Your reliance on any information or content provided in the guide is solely at your own risk. You should always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare professional for any questions you have about your own medical condition. RealSelf does not endorse or recommend any specific content, procedure, product, opinion, healthcare professional or any other material or information in this guide or anywhere on this website.

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