Having Surgery, What You Need to Know

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Having Surgery, What You Need to Know

Having Surgery, What You Need to Know

Every year more than 15 million Americans have non-emergent surgeries. If you don’t have an emergent surgery, there are a lot of things you can do to prepare. For example, get a second opinion, find out if other treatments are available and research the procedure proposed to you. Additionally, consider a second opinion; create a list of questions for your primary care physician and your surgeon. Make sure you bring a notepad to take notes.

Ask your physician about your current health. Find out if you are sick or have some kind of infection that could delay the procedure. Go over your health history with your doctor. If you wish, request a copy of your entire medical file, something you are entitled to have. If you take medications, find out from your physician if you should bring your medications with you or if they are provided by the hospital. If they are provided by the hospital, make sure that your surgeon is aware of this and that your physician communicates this to the hospital. Find out if you have allergies. If you do, make sure the hospital, your surgeon and your physician are aware of this.

o What type of procedure am I having?
o Why do I need this procedure?
o What is your success rate?
o Can I speak with other patients you’ve treated?
o Are there alternative treatment options available?
o Is this an out-patient procedure?
o If I have to stay in the hospital, how long will I need to be here?
o How long is the recovery time?
o Is this procedure curative?
o What are the risks?
o What are the complications?
o How many of these surgeries have you performed?
o What hospital will I be staying at?
o If you’ve never been to the hospital, ask your physician or surgeon who to contact to schedule a tour.
o Can I have round the clock visitors?
o Will I be placed in a twilight state or will I go under general anesthesia?
o Can I meet with my anesthesiologist?
o Find out about after pain management after surgery.
o What tests will be required of me prior to my procedure date?
o Why do we need these tests?
o How can I limit my exposure to potential infection during my stay at the hospital?
o Do I need any vaccinations?
o What forms will I need to sign?
o Do I need legal documents prior to surgery? If so, what specifically do I need?

While the list might seem daunting, remember, it is very important to be as proactive about your healthcare as possible. Your doctors should willingly answer your questions or connect you with a nurse in their practice who can address your questions.

Next, make sure you call your insurance company to find out if your procedure is covered, including your hospital stay and out of pocket expenses required by you to pay. Make sure the anesthesiologist is covered under your health plan.

While writing this article, I researched a great list of questions and tips from Johns Hopkins. Please see below.

Important questions to ask before having surgery
Millions of Americans will undergo surgery each year. It is important for patients to be informed about the surgery being recommended, particularly if it is elective surgery (an operation you choose to have performed), rather than an emergency surgery (also called urgent surgery). All surgeries have risks and benefits which you should familiarize yourself with before deciding whether the procedure is appropriate for you.
The following are important questions you should 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 patients 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


  • 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 performing this operation and why he or she favors one way over another.
  • Why is the procedure necessary?
  • 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 a period of 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?
  • It is important that your doctor outline the specific benefits of having surgery for you. You should 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 obtain a second opinion?
  • Many health plans may require patients to obtain a second opinion before undergoing elective surgery. Your doctor should be able to supply you with the names of qualified individuals who also perform the procedure. For more information on second opinions, see the Preoperative Management section of this module.
  • What is the doctor’s experience in performing this procedure?
  • You can minimize the risks of surgery by choosing a doctor who is thoroughly trained and experienced in performing the procedure. You may ask the doctor about his or her experience with the procedure being performed, including the number of times he or she has performed it, and his or her record of successes, as well as complications.
  • Where will the surgery be performed?

Until recently, most surgery was performed 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 performed on an inpatient basis. Your overall health is also considered when making a decision as to where the operation will be performed. 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 administered and why this type of anesthesia is recommended for your procedure. You should also ask who will be administering 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. For more about anesthesia, see the Preoperative Management section of this module.

  • 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.

Tips for communicating with your doctor
It is important to communicate your feelings, questions, and concerns with your doctor prior to having surgery. The following suggestions may help to improve communication between you and your doctor:

  • If you do not understand your doctor’s responses, ask questions until you do.
  • Take notes, or ask a family member or friend to accompany you and take notes for you.
  • Ask your doctor to write down his or her instructions, if necessary.
  • Ask your doctor where you can find printed material about your condition. Many doctors have this information in their offices.
  • If you still have questions, ask the doctor where you can go for more information.

Learning about your surgeon
It is important to have confidence in the doctor who will be performing your surgery. Whether this is someone you have chosen yourself, or a doctor or surgeon you have been referred to, you can make sure that he or she is qualified to perform this operation. This may include any or all of the following:

  • Ask your primary care doctor, your local medical society, or health insurance company for information regarding the doctor or surgeon’s experience with the procedure.
  • Ask about the doctor or surgeon’s credentials and whether he or she has any additional certifications that make him or her more experienced in performing the procedure.
  • Make certain the doctor or surgeon is affiliated with an accredited health care facility. When considering surgery, where it is performed is often as important as who is performing the procedure.

Determining the costs of the procedure
Before you have surgery, discuss the costs with someone from the finance department at your doctor’s office. These costs may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The surgeon’s fee for surgery
  • Hospital fees (if you require hospitalization) or Ambulatory Surgical Center fees (for outpatient services). Check with the hospital’s business office regarding these rates; your doctor or surgeon should be able to give you an approximate idea of how long you will be in the hospital.
  • Separate billing for other services. You will also be billed separately for the professional services of others who might be involved in your care, such as the assisting surgeon, anesthesiologist, and other medical consultants.

Check with your health plan prior to surgery to be certain of what portion of the costs you will be responsible for. If your anticipated costs present a problem, discuss other financial solutions with your doctor prior to the surgery.
Obtaining a second opinion

Asking another doctor or surgeon for a second opinion is an important step in ensuring that this particular procedure is the best option for you. A second opinion can help you make an informed decision about the best treatment for your condition and can help you weigh the risks and benefits against possible alternatives to the surgery.

Several health plans now require and will pay for patients to obtain a second opinion on certain  non-emergent procedures. Medicare may also pay for patients to obtain a second opinion. Even if your plan does not require this, you still can request a second opinion.

If you decide to get a second opinion, check with your health plan to see if it is covered. Your primary care doctor or hospital can provide you with names of qualified doctors. Be sure to get your medical records from your first doctor so that the second one does not need to repeat tests and procedures.

Remember, in the case of emergency surgeries, the surgery should be performed as quickly as possible and, most likely, there will not be time to obtain a second opinion. The necessity of getting a second opinion should always be weighed against the severity and urgency of the medical condition.

Have you had surgery recently? If so, how was your experience? Do you have any wisdom you’d care to impart? We’d love to hear from you, as would our other readers. Please leave us a note in comments.


Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Attorney Steven Peck

About the Author

Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.

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