How to Find a Top Thyroid Surgeon

Tips for Assessing Experience and Credentials

It takes experience to save lives
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Thyroid surgery is not a common surgery, so it's important that you find a surgeon who is fully skilled and experienced in the procedure. According to New York's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the country's top thyroid surgery centers, a doctor's expertise is directly associated with the number surgeries performed: Their guidelines rate thyroid surgeon experience as follows:

  • Inexperienced: less than 200 surgeries
  • Intermediate: 201 to 500 surgeries
  • Experienced: 501 to 1,000 surgeries
  • Expert: more than 1,000 surgeries

Surgical Experience and Complications

Greater surgical experience has also been shown to correspond to lower rates of complications. One study conducted by the neoplastic diseases unit at Duke University reported that surgeons who had less than 25 thyroid removal surgeries per year were as much as 1.5 times more likely to have complications.

Because of this, many experts today recommend that you only consider surgeons who have no less than 50 surgeries per year. The problem, of course, is that there are far fewer surgeons who meet this criterion than you might imagine.

According to Duke researchers, half of all surgeons polled performed just one thyroidectomy per year. A review of post-surgical records showed that doctors who did six to 10 thyroid surgeries per year had a 42 percent greater risk of complications than those who performed more than 25 annually.

On average, six percent of all thyroidectomies result in a post-surgical complication.

How to Find an Expert Thyroid Surgeon

Finding a high-volume thyroid surgeon is not as easy as it may seem. This is especially true if you live in a rural community far from an urban center.

One of the first places to look is in various online directories offered by professional associations and non-profit healthcare group.

One of the best is managed by the American Thyroid Association which can help locate a qualified specialist based on your zip code or city/state. You can then check the doctor's credentials by using the live, updated Certification Matters website operated by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

Another interesting site is the online review site, HealthGrades, which provides you the first-hand perspectives of current and former patients as well as an extensive breakdown of the doctor's qualifications, credentials, areas of expertises, and background (including malpractice cases and board actions).

Beyond that, you will need to consider the offices that will accept your insurance and take the time to assess the performance of the hospital itself (including facilities, mortality rates, rates of complications, etc.) HealthGrade may be one of the better sites to do this.

Narrowing Your Search

To find the best surgeon, you may need to consider traveling to a university hospital or medical center outside of your immediate area. It should have a high-volume surgical unit specializing in thyroidectomies. A surgeon who exclusively performs thyroid/parathyroid surgery is almost always a better choice than a general surgeon or a head/neck surgeon.

Once you find a candidate, schedule an appointment and go there will the full intention of interviewing the doctor. Be direct. Never be shy about asking for specific numbers, dates, and credentials. An experienced professional would fully expect this. By contrast, any surgeon who is offended by the line of questioning is someone you'd likely want to avoid.

While you clearly don't want the search to take forever (and, in some cases, you may need to make a decision quickly), it's important that you make an informed decision based on full disclosure and transparent communication between you and the prospective surgeon.

Never settle for anything less.

Source:

Adam, M.; Thomas, S.; Youngworth, L.; et al. "Is There a Minimum Number of Thyroidectomies a Surgeon Should Perform to Optimize Patient Outcomes?" Annals of Surgery. March 8, 2016 [Epub ahead of print].

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