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Choosing a Bariatric Surgeon

Weight loss surgery is not a quick fix—it is a lifelong commitment to improving your health. The success of this commitment depends largely on who you choose to go on this journey with you, namely your surgeon and bariatric surgery team.

"Finding a good surgeon is a lot like finding any other good professional," says Eric Volckmann, MD, director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at University of Utah Health. "You want to talk to people who've had experiences with that surgeon. What were their results like? How was their follow-up? How was their care?"

Find the Right Program

You can find many of these answers by doing your own research. The Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP) maintains a list of surgical centers that meet their high standards of care. Every center on the list has demonstrated a mastery of bariatric surgery and a commitment to quality patient care. In addition, all centers on the list are required to report surgery outcomes to the MBSAQIP so they can ensure the quality of care is consistent.

Once you have identified a potential program, take a look at the services they offer. You want to find a center that does more than just educate potential patients about the surgery—they should also assess whether patients are good candidates for it. You also want to pick a program with a well-organized follow-up program so that post-surgery complications don't derail your health.

"In our program at University of Utah Health, patients get tracked from initial evaluation to follow-up," Volckmann says. "We follow them for the rest of their life, so if they have any complication related to their procedure, we look into it."

Choose the Right Surgeon and Team

When choosing a surgeon, look for someone who views you as an individual. No two bariatric patients are the same, which is why several different procedures are offered. Make sure your surgeon recommends the best one for you.

"For instance, patients with heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease may be best served by a gastric bypass because that's the only one that cures heartburn," Volckmann says. "The other procedures, namely sleeve gastrectomies, have the potential to cause heartburn."

Don't be afraid to ask questions of a potential surgeon, such as:

  • Why do you think I’m a good candidate for surgery?
  • How often have you performed the surgery?
  • How often do they have to refer patients to another facility for care?

"If people are having to escalate to higher levels of care frequently, that may not be a good sign about the outcomes of that program," Volckmann says.

Understand the Finances

Choosing the right bariatric surgeon and team is important for your financial health, too. When patients don't have health care insurance with bariatric surgery benefits, complications from self-pay bariatric surgery are generally not be covered by insurance unless the provider is enrolled in a program for procedure-specific insurance. That could lead to high medical bills.

"That's one of the worst conversations I have to have with patients," Volckmann says. "I let them know that I will try to control costs, but in order to give them the best care possible, they may face a bill they weren't expecting."

If you are seeking bariatric surgery to improve your health, don't put it at risk by picking the wrong surgery team. Do your homework and receive the best outcome possible. You deserve it.