Millions of Americans undergo surgery every year. Some procedures are emergent, while others are elective. As with any procedure, there are risks and benefits to surgery. As a patient, it is your right and responsibility to be informed about the procedure being performed and ask questions regarding the procedure to your healthcare provider. Understanding the reason for the surgery, the risks involved, and the recovery period will help you make the best decision possible.
Below is a list of questions that you should discuss with your doctor before surgery. Make sure that your healthcare provider reviews the answers clearly and thoroughly so that you are comfortable with the information being given to you.

1. What is the recommended procedure and why was it chosen over alternative methods?

Ask your doctor for a simplified explanation of the procedure being performed, including the steps and techniques being used. Sometimes having the doctor write down the answers or draw diagrams is helpful to fully understanding what will happen during surgery. You should also have your doctor explain why this procedure was preferred over alternatives.

2. Why is this procedure needed?

Reasons for surgery range from diagnosing or improving a condition, to preventing or relieving pain. Have your doctor fully explain why this procedure is necessary and how this will improve your overall health. Also, discuss the timing of the procedure. Is this something that must be done now? Are there consequences to delaying or postponing the procedure?

3. Is there an alternative to surgery?

Sometimes, there are nonsurgical or other medical treatments available to help the condition. Your doctor should explain the risks and benefits of all treatment options to help you make an informed decision, including potential alternative non-surgical treatment options.

4. What are the risks and possible complications associated with this procedure?

Ask your doctor to outline possible complications resulting from surgery, such as infection, bleeding, and side effects. Discuss your pain management plan and be sure to understand when you should return to the doctor’s office for a post-surgical check-up or the steps you should take if you experience any complications following surgery.

5. Should I get a second opinion?

For elective surgery, some doctors recommend, and some health insurance providers even require a second opinion. Even if your procedure is medically necessary, you may want to seek a second opinion. Your doctor should be able to provide you with names of other surgeons you could speak to about your condition/procedure.

6. What is your experience performing this type of surgery?

It is important to have confidence in your healthcare provider’s ability to perform your surgery successfully. You should ask your doctor about his credentials and certifications, his/her experience performing the procedure, including the number of times it has been performed, his/her success and failure rate, how often he/she operates at the hospital where you will be treated, the hospital’s success and infection rate, and how often the doctor uses the surgical nursing staff.

7. Where will the procedure take place and will the surgeon perform the entire operation?

Will this be an in-office procedure, outpatient procedure, or in-patient procedure? Will the surgeon have an assistant with him/her and if so, will the assistant also take part in the procedure?

8. Will anesthesia be administered for the procedure?

Your doctor should explain whether local, regional, or general anesthesia will be used during the procedure and why it is needed. He/she should also explain who will be administering the anesthesia and provide you their contact information so that you can meet with them beforehand and understand the risks and benefits of receiving the anesthetic.

9. What can I expect during recovery?

Your doctor should explain what to expect in the first few days following surgery, such as how long you will be hospitalized, how your pain will be managed, and if any limitations will be placed on your daily routine. You should ask if you will require special supplies, equipment, or additional medical care (home health care, physical therapy, etc.) after discharge and how often you will need to see the doctor for post-operative check-ups. You should have a clear understanding of the healing process and a good approximation of when you will be able to return to your normal activities.

10. Is this procedure covered by my insurance?

Coverage varies by health insurance plan, so you may have financial responsibilities associated with the procedure. While your healthcare provider may not know the specifics of your insurance plan, he/she should be able to refer you to someone in the office or health facility who could assist you.

Surgery – whether performed in an office, in an ambulatory care setting, or an inpatient operating room – is a big deal. It is important to communicate your feelings, questions, and concerns openly with your doctor before having any procedure done. If there is something you don’t understand, ask additional questions until you do. Take notes or ask a family member or friend to accompany you to your pre-operative appointments. If you still have questions, ask your healthcare provider where you could go for more information.

Don’t be afraid to ask for further explanation if you need additional information or do not understand certain medical terms. A well-informed patient is more comfortable going into surgery, is better prepared for the recovery process, and tends to be more satisfied after the procedure than a patient who doesn’t discuss the surgery with his or her doctor beforehand.

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