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Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Important questions to ask before having surgery

questions-for-doctorMillions of Americans will undergo surgery each year. It is important to be informed about the surgery being recommended, particularly if it is elective surgery (an operation you choose to have done), rather than an emergency surgery (also called urgent surgery). All surgeries have risks and benefits. It's important to understand them before deciding whether the procedure is appropriate for you.

The following are important questions to review with your doctor prior to surgery. Ask your doctor to explain the answers clearly and ask for further clarification if you are having trouble understanding an explanation and/or any medical terms. Some people find it helpful to write their questions down ahead of time. It is important to remember that a well-informed patient tends to be more satisfied with the outcome or results of a procedure

What is the operation being recommended?

Your doctor should clearly explain the surgical procedure, explaining the steps involved and providing you with illustrative examples. You should ask if there are different methods for doing this operation and why he or she favors one way over another.

Why is the procedure needed?

Reasons to have surgery may vary from relieving or preventing pain to diagnosing a problem to improving body function. Ask your doctor to specifically explain why this procedure is being recommended for you and make sure you understand how this may improve your medical condition.

What are my alternatives to this procedure? Are there other treatment options available based on my current medical condition?

In some cases, medication or nonsurgical treatments, such as lifestyle changes, may be as helpful in improving a condition as surgery. Your doctor should clearly explain the benefits and risks of these options so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not surgery is necessary. Sometimes "watchful waiting" is indicated, in which the doctor will monitor your condition over time to observe changes and the progression of a disease. You may still need surgery, or if your condition improves or stabilizes, you may be able to postpone surgery. After a period of "watchful waiting," it may be determined that surgery is still the best option.

What are the benefits of the surgery and how long will they last?

also ask how long the benefits typically last. Some benefits only last a short time, and could possibly require a second operation, while others may last a lifetime. Also, ask your doctor about published information regarding the outcomes of the recommended procedure. This will allow you to make an informed decision and have realistic expectations about the 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 surgery. Ask your doctor to outline the possible complications, such as infection and bleeding, and possible side effects that could follow the procedure. Be sure to understand when you should notify your doctor or seek immediate medical attention for complications. You should also discuss pain and ways to manage any pain that may follow the procedure.

What happens if you do not have the operation?

If you decide, after weighing the benefits and risks of the surgery, not to have the operation, what will happen? You need to know whether the condition will worsen or if there is a possibility that it may resolve itself.

Should I get a second opinion

In certain cases, some health plans may require patients to have a second opinion before undergoing elective surgery. Your doctor should be able to supply you with the names of qualified individuals who also do the procedure.

What is the doctor's experience in doing this procedure?

You can minimize the risks of surgery by choosing a doctor who is thoroughly trained and experienced in doing the procedure. You may ask the doctor about his or her experience with the procedure being done, including the number of times he or she has done it, and his or her record of successes, as well as complications.>

Where will the surgery be performed?

Until recently, most surgery was done in hospitals. Today, however, many procedures are done on an outpatient basis or in ambulatory surgical centers. This lowers the cost of these procedures since you are not paying for a hospital room. Certain procedures may still need to be done on an inpatient basis. Your overall health is also considered when making a decision as to where the operation will be done. Be sure to ask your doctor why he or she recommends either setting.

What type of anesthesia will be administered?

Your doctor 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 a nurse anesthetist; both of whom are highly qualified to administer anesthesia) and ask to meet with that person before your operation.

What can I expect during recovery?

Ask your doctor what to expect in the first few days following surgery, as well as in the weeks and months that follow. You need to know how long you will be hospitalized, what limitations will be placed on you, and if there are special supplies or equipment you will need when discharged. Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help you to cope and recover more quickly following the surgery.

What are the costs of this operation?

Because health plans vary in their coverage of different procedures, there may be costs you will be responsible for. You will need to know what the specific costs of the operation will be and how much your insurance or health plan will cover. This information is not typically available to the doctor. 

Truven 2017

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