How to Choose Your Bariatric Surgeon When You Self-Pay

You’ve made the decision to undergo bariatric surgery, and you know you plan to self-pay rather than go through insurance. That’s fantastic. You’re ready to lose the weight, keep it off, and get your life back.

The next step is to choose your bariatric surgeon. Because you’re doing self-pay rather than going through insurance, you have a lot of options; you don’t have to worry about choosing a surgeon who’s in-network. The decision of who you choose to be your surgeon is profoundly important. The right weight loss surgeon will perform your procedure safely and with minimal complications, and will offer comprehensive support in terms of pre-op education and post-op counseling to set you on the right path. The right surgeon will be able to relate with your weight loss struggles and will also be a committed partner to strengthen you in this lifelong journey. With the right surgeon, this surgery can be an incredible turning point in your life.

If you choose the wrong bariatric surgeon, unfortunately, you may be setting yourself up for more headaches down the road: complications, trouble with continuity of care, even problems with a flawed surgery. The unfortunate truth is that not all surgeons and surgery centers are created equal, and you owe it to yourself to choose one that will help you transform your life for the better.

How to Choose a Bariatric Surgeon

There are two major factors to consider when choosing a bariatric surgeon: they should have the highest certifications so that you know you’re in good hands, and they should offer pre-op education and committed post-op care so that they can help you maximize your weight loss and lifestyle transformation.


It’s important to choose a certified ASMBS comprehensive MBSAQIP center so that you know that you’re in good hands. These centers are held to the highest standards, and have to meet a number of requirements in order to be certified. It’s also important to choose a board-certified bariatric surgeon. A board-certified surgeon will have had to meet stringent licensing requirements and will often have far lower rates of complications than non-board-certified surgeons.

The weight loss surgery team at the Bariatric & Metabolic Center of Colorado (BMCC) is among the best in Colorado. At the BMCC we do all surgeries through an ASMBS certified comprehensive MBSAQIP center. In past site review, the ASMBS made several recommendations for best practices nationally based on our model of care. We are consistently in the 99th percentile of patient satisfaction surveys and are also rated at 5 stars on Google, Healthgrades, and ObesityHelp. Using this philosophy of care our primary hospital affiliate, Parker Adventist Hospital, received a top 100 national hospital ranking for bariatric surgery from Money and Becker’s Hospital Review based on the Leapfrog recommendation with a top safety grade of A. Dr. Joshua Long, our chief bariatric surgeon and medical director, is a double-board-certified surgeon who has dedicated his life to your weight loss journey. He’s considered to be at the top of his field, having performed over 2,000 weight loss surgeries.

If you’re wondering how to choose a bariatric surgeon, one of the most important factors to consider is their qualifications and their track record with other patients. Your life and your health matter deeply, and it is vital to choose a surgery center that can take the best care of you.

Pre- and Post-Op Education and Care

Bariatric surgery is not a magical cure, and it’s very important for you to meet regularly with your weight loss surgery team both before and after surgery so that they can help you modify certain behaviors, address any complications, and give you your best chance at losing the weight and keeping it off.

Before surgery, a good bariatric surgery team will offer several consultations to help you understand what weight loss surgery entails and how to get the most out of it. These should include:

  • Initial surgical consultation
  • Psychological (behavioralist) evaluation
  • Dietitian consultation
  • Primary Care Physician consultation (physician should discuss your current medicines and which ones may cause problems with weight loss surgery)
  • Medically supervised weight loss classes
  • Midpoint provider reassessment
  • Preoperative visit with your surgeon

Before surgery, we’ll also help you to change certain dietary behaviors in order to maximize your opportunity for weight loss, including addressing the structure and content of your food and liquid intake. When you get closer to surgery, you’ll need to be on a liquid diet for a few days before surgery. Make sure you choose a bariatric team that offers dietary consultations for at least three months before surgery to help you start modifying your diet. At the BMCC, our dietitian will meet with you multiple times before surgery to help you craft a pre-surgery dietary plan that will set you up for success.

After surgery, it’s very important to note that your weight loss success relies on regular follow-ups and check-ins with your bariatric surgery team. You’ll need to gradually adjust your diet post-surgery from all-liquid back to solid foods, and set up a diet and exercise plan that will help you lose the weight and keep it off. You’ll also need to get regular check-ups in order to ensure that you’re getting enough vitamins and to handle any potential complications (while the risk of complications at a certified ASMBS comprehensive MBSAQIP center is very small, it’s still important to choose a weight loss surgery team that can help you address any complications that may come up).

When you’re choosing your weight loss surgeon, choose one that offers abundant pre-op and post-op education and care. At the BMCC, we pride ourselves on our pre-op and post-op education and care, which is one reason our patients consistently have incredible outcomes. If you’re interested, you can read more about our pre-op education and post-op care.

International Medical Tourism

Bariatric surgery is an expensive procedure, and it can be tempting to consider getting surgery in another country in order to save money. For instance, weight loss surgery in Mexico often runs from $4,000 – $10,000, which is substantially less than the cost of surgery in the United States.

However, it can be extremely risky to get weight loss surgery in another country for two reasons.

First, surgical centers in Mexico don’t have to undergo the rigorous accreditation process that surgical centers in the United States do, which means the quality of your surgeon can vary widely. Some surgeons are US-trained or even board-certified but are not working in the US for a reason. Other surgeons are not even certified. Some may misrepresent their qualifications in order to make their practices seem safer than they really are. These surgical centers often have far higher rates of complications than MBSAQIP centers in the United States. And sadly, when complications do arise in this setting, patients have been forced back onto a plane away from the responsible center and surgeon just a few days after surgery; whether the complication has been adequately resolved or not. Additionally, this model of care is very transactional, including ONLY the surgery with no additional support given in terms of preoperative education or long-term supportive care. Because of this, long-term weight loss tends to be much lower.

At the Bariatric and Metabolic Center of Colorado, we care deeply about your health and your long-term outcomes, which is why we warn patients away from surgical centers outside of the United States. You might save a few dollars upfront but often end up spending far more in the end. The risk to your life and to your health simply isn’t worth it. At an MBSAQIP center in the United States, weight loss surgery is no more dangerous than the most minor out-patient surgery such as gallbladder surgery. The 30-day complication rate from the three most common weight loss surgeries is around 1%, and our double-board-certified bariatric surgeon has one of the lowest complication rates in the country.

Second, going to a surgical center in another country can make receiving pre-op and post-op care very difficult. Because your surgical outcomes and long-term weight loss will be much better if you check in regularly with your surgical team both before and after surgery, we recommend that you choose a surgical center within a reasonable traveling distance of where you live. You’ll want a surgical team that you can meet with in-person multiple times, at intervals, for weeks and even months before surgery; and for months and even years after surgery. If you choose a surgeon who’s in another country, that can become very difficult.

Choosing a surgeon near to you is especially important because if complications do occur you want your surgeon to be able to support you through them. Patients who undergo weight loss surgery in Mexico or another country outside of the United States not only report higher rates of complications but also a shocking lack of support and care when these complications arise. When delayed complications arise, these are made worse by the difficulty of flying back to see their surgeon again (if they will even agree to see their international patients again). When you choose a surgeon nearer to you, you can easily work with them and their surgical team to handle any complications in the unlikely event that they arise.

If you’re wondering how to choose a bariatric surgeon, one essential piece of advice is not to price-shop, but instead to value-shop. Surgery can seem very expensive, and it can be tempting to go somewhere with a lower sticker price, but your highest value involves a much greater consideration of safety, long-term weight loss, comprehensive support, and health benefits. These factors are too important to make the decision just based on saving a few dollars.

Domestic Medical Tourism

It can also be tempting to price-shop bariatric surgeons in different states in the United States. This can be a better option than international medical tourism, and some of our patients have come from other states because they wanted to see a top surgeon. Again, the most important thing to do here is to find a certified ASMBS comprehensive MBSAQIP center and a board-certified bariatric surgeon with excellent patient outcomes and a low complication rate.

It’s also important to choose a surgeon who you can see at regular intervals both before and after your weight loss surgery. In many cases, this will require that you find a surgeon in your same state or even city to minimize the logistical difficulties. However, some patients have found success flying or driving to another state for surgery, as long as they have the financial and logistical freedom to make that trip several times in the first year.

The Importance of Clarity

The decision to get weight loss surgery is one of the biggest and most important decisions of your life, and it is vital to choose a bariatric surgeon who is completely open and transparent with you.

Make sure you choose a surgical practice that offers transparent and comprehensive pricing. Unfortunately, some practices offer low sticker prices, but then include hidden add-on fees that can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The most reputable surgical practices will list their prices transparently on their website, and these prices will be inclusive. At the BMCC, for instance, all of our cash-pay bariatric surgery prices include preop care, education, surgery, anesthesia, hospital stay, and 3 months of bariatric aftercare.

It’s also important to choose a surgery practice that is open about the risks and complications of surgery. At a certified facility, the risk of complications should be very small; but it’s still essential to find a doctor who is upfront about possible complications. For instance, LAP-BAND® surgery today is widely recognized as unsafe, but some surgeons (especially in other countries) still market the LAP-BAND® as a gold-standard procedure. Make sure your surgeon is willing to discuss the particular surgeries that they offer and to be honest about what those surgeries entail and their patient outcomes.

How Do I Choose the Right Bariatric Surgery?

You may already know which bariatric surgery you want, but one factor to consider when choosing a bariatric surgeon is that they should offer to help you make this choice. A great surgeon should be able to talk through each surgery with you and whether or not said surgery is right for you. They should also be able to steer you away from outdated surgeries (such as LAP-BAND® surgery) that carry a higher risk of complications and weight regain than current surgeries.

Taking the Next Step: Scheduling Your Bariatric Surgery

We understand that choosing the right bariatric surgeon is an important decision, and we’re here to help. If you’re considering self-pay bariatric surgery and are looking for the right weight loss surgeon, we encourage you to schedule a bariatric assessment with us.

Our patients routinely say that surgery was the best decision they ever made.

“I feel like I have won the lottery and have been given a second chance in life! March 25, 2014, was the first day of the rest of my new life and I can’t even start to express in words how grateful I am.”—Rochelle Goforth, patient.

If you’re suffering, don’t wait. Call our Denver office today.

Dr. Joshua Long headshot

This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: May 25th, 2023

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