Over the past few years I have had patients travel to Virginia for shoulder replacements and rotator cuff repairs from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey and even Arizona.
The notion of traveling far away for an elective surgery seems crazy, at first. But when reconsidered it may make a lot of sense. What decisions or investments could be more important than your surgery, and isn’t that worth traveling for?
A shoulder replacement done well by an experienced surgeon could last you a lifetime and greatly improve your quality of life. While a replacement that fails can cause chronic pain and need multiple additional surgeries. Research has shown that experienced surgeons have consistently better outcomes and fewer complications. So, is it really that crazy to travel 2,000 miles for a surgeon who is experienced and has documented good results. My recent patient from Arizona did not think so.
The process of coordinating surgery and follow up from far away is really not that difficult and it’s getting easier all the time with new technology. After shoulder surgery most of my patients stay in Virginia for 3-5 days and then return home. We monitor their progress by phone and video conferences. This allows me to check their range of motion and make sure the wounds are healing well. Primary care physicians and physical therapists at home remove stitches. We always offer patients the option to return for their follow up visits at 6weeks, three months and six months. But the majority of patients choose not to because they are doing well.
Although, the process of traveling for shoulder surgery usually goes very smoothly it does require an experienced team to avoid problems. For instance, we help patients to ensure that we are in their insurance network or get out of network quotes from their insurance. We also instruct patients to check the insurance network status of the anesthesiologist and hospital because sometimes that can be a billing issue. For patients who are out of network we discuss the option of a replacement in the surgery center because that provides huge cost savings. We offer suggestions of where to stay during their visit and travel tips for postoperative patients.
Medicine is becoming more of a consumer driven industry and much of this is data driven. Patients are seeking experienced surgeons with good outcomes, and this is a good thing. Would you rather have a shoulder replacement with a local surgeon who does a few a year, or travel to have one done by a more experienced surgeon?
I believe this trend will only continue to grow as patients have more access to finding skilled surgeons regardless of where they are.