How to Find the Right Orthopedic Surgeon

Finding an orthopedic surgeon can be a daunting process, especially if you are already suffering from a hip, knee, or shoulder problem or other musculoskeletal ailment. Even more, the dilemma of finding a good surgeon may be amplified if you live in a remote area without a major medical center.

Measuring for implant during orthopedic surgery
Dana Neely / Stone/Getty

While coming up with a list of candidates and deciding on your orthopedic surgeon may be a longer process for some than others, knowing that you've chosen the best available professional to perform your procedure can increase the potential for better outcomes and leave you feeling more confident about your surgery.

Follow these steps for making a balanced, informed choice about who your orthopedic surgeon will be.

Step One: Find Qualified Candidates in Your Area

When beginning your search, try not to necessarily go out with the sole aim of finding the "best" surgeon. The simple fact is that there are many definitions of "best," some of which may hinder the search process more than help it.

Instead, it's better to focus on finding an experienced, well-regarded surgeon with whom you can communicate freely and honestly. This is especially true if you are faced with the possibility of needing multiple treatments or surgeries. Working with the same surgeon means that they know your case and have an in-depth understanding of your prospects and limitations.

To begin your search for an orthopedic surgeon:

  • Talk to your primary care doctor, who will either know the best orthopedists in your area or have a referral network to turn to. They may also know which orthopedic surgeons have experience with specific types of surgeries, as this will vary between surgeons.
  • Since first-hand experience generally helps, speak with your friends and family, some of whom may have seen an orthopedic surgeon or know someone who has.
  • Peruse the websites of professional organizations. Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons have online member directories that you can search by specialty and city, state, or zip code.

Step Two: Check Availability and Cost

Sometimes doctors have very long waiting lists for appointments. If this is the case, you can try speaking to the nurse or front office staff. Oftentimes, doctors can see people sooner for more urgent conditions.

In addition, be sure to find out beforehand whether your insurance will cover the cost of the surgery and if the doctor you are considering is on the insurer's provider list. You can do this by either calling your insurance company directly or doing a provider search on the member portal of your insurance company's website. 

Step Three: Check Credentials and Background

To verify that an orthopedic surgeon is not only board-certified but has also maintained his or her status, you can use the provider portal maintained by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons.

For a more thorough background check, you can turn to medical review websites for details about any malpractice suits or sanctions a doctor may have faced. You can also do this for the hospital itself to better assess its patient mortality rates and rates of post-surgical complications.

Step Four: Interview Candidates

Once you find a potential orthopedic surgeon candidate, schedule an appointment and go there will the full intention of interviewing the doctor. (It's helpful to declare your intent for this meeting when setting it up.)

During the appointment, remain straightforward. In other words, do not be shy about asking how many times a doctor has performed a certain surgery, when the last time they performed it was, or how they might approach a surgery differently than a colleague.

An experienced professional fully expects a broad range of questions from their patient and should be able to articulate how and why a procedure should be done. On the flip side, a surgeon who is offended by such questioning may be someone you want to avoid.

A Word From Verywell

While time may be of the essence, when finding an orthopedic surgeon, it's important that you make an informed choice based on full disclosure and transparent communication. You deserve nothing less.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Portalatín EL, Carrazana LF, Colon R, Abreu R, Rivera D, Lojo L. Orthopaedic surgeon communication skills: Perception of empathy and patient satisfaction through the use of anatomic models. J Am Acad Orthop Surg Glob Res Rev. 2018;2(11):e071.

  2. Otto ME, Senter C, Gonzales R, Gleason N. Referring wisely: orthopedic referral guidelines at an academic institutionAm J Manag Care. 2016;22(5):e185–e191.

  3. Forbes. How can I verify if a provider is in my coverage network?

  4. Federation of State Medical Boards. Information you can trust.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Questions to ask your doctor.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.