This blog addresses a question by one of AO’s readers: Based on surgical outcomes, when should a person see a podiatrist, and when should that person see a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon?

This question is difficult to answer. Of course I would be biased towards an MD, orthopedic surgeon, fellowship trained in the care of the foot and ankle over a podiatrist.

The real answer is there are good and bad in both disciplines…but how do you find out who is the right person for you or your family member?

Here are some ways to vet the right doc, of any kind, especially a surgeon.

1. The best referrals are from patients who have been there. Your doctor might not be the best source for a referral. If I am asked by my patient about another doc—a heart surgeon let’s say—I will usually not give a referral because I don’t really know these people and I certainly don’t know how good a doc/surgeon they might be.

At the end of the day I really don’t know most of these other docs, but I hear stories (see #2). Sometimes no referral is the best route.

2. Find someone this doc might work with in the OR, like a nurse, anesthetists, etc. These people are with the surgeon in the heat of battle and that is when a surgeon’s true colors show! That is exactly how I found my urologist 13 years ago, but I have means the common person does not. So, do your best to ask around.

3. Be forward and ask the doc you are in front of how many of these procedures they have done. If that upsets them…RUN. What are the expected downsides and risks of a particular procedure? What is the recovery going to be?

4. Talk to patients in the waiting room. But beware, you might be thrown off by the complainer. You might have to throw out the highs and the lows. This approach can be much like reviews of products online and has to be filtered a bit…A constructive criticism looks very different from whining and complaining.

5. Don’t choose your doc/surgeon based on their wonderful personality. Your prospective doc could be a jerk, curmudgeon, or just not warm and fuzzy, but they could still be a great surgeon, who gets great results. See #1 and #2. Face it, you’re not going there to date them, you are going for a service.

6. When all else fails, get another opinion. If you are really looking at surgery, get another opinion and then choose. But a word of warning: too many and differing opinions can cause confusion. If you do this do not tell the next guy what the first guy said—don’t even tell them you saw someone else. Then you will get unbiased opinion. Notice I did not say honest?

I may have not directly answered the question, but that is a tinderbox even the angry one will not touch. Best of luck to all…