You may want to review the following important questions with your physician before surgery. Ask your doctor to explain the answers clearly and ask for further explanation if you are having trouble understanding any portion of the discussion. Some people find it helpful to write their questions down ahead of time and review the information discussed before making a final decision.
Why is the procedure necessary?
Reasons to have surgery may vary from relieving or preventing pain to diagnosing a problem to improve body function. Ask your doctor to explain to you why this procedure is being recommended and make sure you understand how this may improve your medical condition.
What are the benefits of the surgery and how long will they last?
It is important that your doctor outline the specific benefits you may expect from having the surgery. You should also ask how long the benefits typically last. Some benefits only last a short time and could possible require a second operation, while others may last a lifetime. Also, ask your doctor about written information regarding the outcomes of the procedure that is being discussed. This will allow you to make an informed decision and have realistic expectations about the surgery.
Should I get a second opinion?
Many health insurance plans now allow or require patients to get a second opinion before having surgery. Check with your insurance plan administrator. Your doctor should be able to supply you with the names of qualified surgeons who also perform the procedure.
Where will the surgery be performed?
Until recent years, most surgery was performed in hospitals. Today, however, many procedures are done on an outpatient basis or in ambulatory surgery centers. This lowers the cost of the procedure since you are not paying for a hospital room and inpatient costs. Certain procedures still need to be performed on an inpatient basis and may be based on your insurance carrier’s requirement. Be sure to ask your surgeon why he/she recommends either setting.
What can I expect during recovery?
Ask your doctor what you can expect in the first few days following surgery, as well as in the weeks and months that follow during your recovery. You need to know how long you will be hospitalized, what limitations will be placed on you, and if you will need any special supplies or equipment after you return home. Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help you to be more prepared and help you recover more quickly following the surgery.
What are the costs of the operation?
Because all health plans vary in their coverage of procedures, there may be cost you will be responsible for before or after the procedure. You will need to know what the specific costs of the operation will be and how much your insurance or health plan will cover.
What is the operation being recommended?
Your doctor should clearly discuss with you the surgical procedure, explaining the steps involved and providing you with illustrative examples. You should ask if there are different methods for performing this operation and why he/she favors one way over another.
What are the alternatives to this procedure? Are there other treatment options available based on my current medical condition?
In some cases, medication or non-surgical treatments, such as lifestyle changes, physical therapy or exercise, may be as helpful in improving a condition as surgery. Your doctor should clearly explain the benefits and risks of these choices so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not surgery is necessary. Sometimes carefully monitored waiting is indicated, in which the doctor will monitor your condition over a period of time to observe changes and the progression of a disease. You may still need surgery, or if you improve or stabilize, you may be able to postpone surgery.
What are the risks and possible complications of having the operation?
Surgery always carries some risks, so it is important to weigh the benefits against the risks before having surgery. Ask your doctor to outline the possible complications, such as infections and bleeding, and possible side effects that could follow the procedure. You should also discuss pain and ways to manage any pain that may follow the procedure. Be sure to also discuss with your physicians the risks of not having the procedure.
What is the surgeon’s experience in performing the procedure?
You can decrease risks of surgery by choosing a physician who is trained and experienced in performing the procedure you are considering. You may ask the doctor about his/her experience with the procedure being performed, including the number of times he/she has performed it and his/her record of successes, as well as complications.
What type of anesthesia will be given?
Your surgeon should tell you whether a local, regional, or general anesthesia will be given and why this type of anesthesia is recommended for your procedure. You should also ask who will be giving the anesthesia (such as an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist (CRNA); both of whom are highly qualified to administer anesthesia) and ask to meet with that person before your operation.