Interview With Spine Surgeon Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD, FACS


Thirteen to 16 minutes. That’s the amount of time the majority of physicians spend with a patient during an office visit according to a 2016 Medscape survey. Of the 19,000+ physicians who responded to the survey, roughly 21% of male doctors and 24% of female physicians spend 17-20 minutes with a patient. The survey confirms what most of us know about 21st century doctor-patient interaction. The time allotted to us is less than we want and often less than we need.

While credentials, expertise and experience are critical considerations in choosing a doctor, equally important is finding a physician who inspires confidence, who listens to you, who is thorough and patient and is willing to answer your questions. In short, we all want a doctor who makes us feel comfortable and cared for.

And yet, as Mick Jagger famously crooned in 1989, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Moreover, in modern medicine-land, physician choice may be limited by your insurance plan, your geographic location or other circumstances. Still, it’s important to remember that our health care system makes demands on doctors to optimize their time, so there’s plenty of frustration to go around. Having a conversation with your doctor about neck or back pain may not be the most relaxing experience, but it doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking says Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD, FACS, a partner at Sierra Neurosurgery Group and an Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, at the University of Nevada, School of Medicine in Reno and Las Vegas.

Dr. Sekhon happens to be one of the 11% of male doctors (according to the survey) who spend 45 minutes or more with their patients. Since most of us aren’t likely to have that much time with a specialist, we asked Dr. Sekhon to share his advice on making the most of your doctor’s visit.

Before Your Appointment About Neck and/or Back Pain

  • Come with a list of questions and don’t be afraid to ask them.
  • Always bring someone with you, a family member or friend, who can ask questions on your behalf.  When you’re in pain or feeling anxious, it’s difficult to process information and stay emotionally detached notes Dr. Sekhon. “You need someone who’s looking out for you.”
  • If you want to tape record the conversation let the doctor know upfront. “As long as we know, it’s not a problem,” says Dr. Sekhon.

General information Your Spine Doctor Needs

  • If you’ve had previous surgery of any kind and especially back or neck surgery, you should get as much information as possible about that procedure,” says Dr. Sekhon.  If possible, bring a copy of the operative report with you. “In spinal surgery, knowing exactly what previous surgeons have done is extremely helpful,” says Dr. Sekhon.
  • Explain what treatment you’ve had, such spinal injections, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, and alternative therapies.
  • Bring a detailed list of all the medications you’re taking daily or on an “as needed” basis. Note the name of the medication, not just the category. For example, if you’re taking a blood thinner, make sure you know the name of one you’re taking. “Drugs within the same category can have different effects, especially during surgery,” says Dr. Sekhon.
  • Alert the doctor to any chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart problems, etc. While intake forms ask for this information, it’s good to reiterate the information to your doctor. “You’d be surprised how many patients don’t immediately volunteer this critical information,” says Dr. Sekhon.
  • Be honest. Withholding information about medications you’re taking or any medical conditions you have now—or have had in the past—is a bad idea and potentially dangerous. Some chronic conditions, like diabetes or hypertension may affect what medications you can take and what treatments—surgical or nonsurgical are suitable.
  • Ask if insurance and other forms (including your medical history) can be sent to you in advance of your appointment. That way, you can fill them out before your arrive. It may be possible for the doctor to familiarize him or herself with your problems before your appointment.