Questions to Ask Before Surgery

photo of several doctors and nurses in operating room performing procedureDo you need surgery? There’s a lot to consider, and worry about, before a surgical procedure. It’s scary to think about going under anesthesia, and it’s scary to think about a doctor cutting you open! And it’s really scary to think about the possibility of something going wrong. But instead of putting your head in the sand, it’s important to ask the right questions so you can have the best experience possible. However, surgeons can be intimidating, and many patients don’t know what questions to ask. And, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. So, what should you do? Use our questions to ask before surgery!

If time allows, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Preferably with a surgeon from a different hospital than your initial surgeon. Not all surgeons use the same techniques or have the same success rates. So, if time allows, it is definitely worth your time to meet with a few surgeons before scheduling a procedure. Write these questions in a notebook or print out this post before you meet with prospective surgeons.

What will the operation entail?

It’s important for you to know your options before scheduling an operation. Even in an emergency, there is usually time for questions before the procedure begins. Ask these questions to understand your options:

  • What are the surgical or procedural options?
  • What is the least invasive option?
  • How often is the least invasive method used by you? By other surgeons?
  • What will happen if the surgery or procedure is not performed?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital for recovery? Under what circumstances? If so, for how long?
  • Will local or general anesthesia be required? Are there options?
    • For general anesthesia, will a board-certified anesthesiology doctor be giving and monitoring the anesthesia?
  • How long will the procedure take? Who will update my family?

How experienced is the prospective surgeon?

photo up close female surgeonIt’s not only about how many years the surgeon has worked. The number of times a surgeon has performed the procedure you need is critical. In general, it’s best to use a surgeon who has performed your procedure hundreds of times. However, If you have a rare condition, it will likely be impossible to find a surgeon who has performed hundreds of the procedures you need. In these situations, try to find a surgeon who has at least some experience with your condition and procedure. Ask prospective surgeons:

  • Are you Board Certified in Surgery?
  • Do you have a F.A.C.S. (Fellows of the American College of Surgeons) designation?
  • How many of these surgeries or procedures of this kind have you performed? How often do you perform this procedure?
  • What kind of training did you receive in this procedure?

Are you having a device implanted?

Will your operation include the implantation of a medical device, such as an artificial hip or knee or a cardiovascular implant? Surprisingly, medical sales reps are often present during operations to assist surgeons implanting devices. (For more information on this practice, read my blog post.) If your surgery involves implanting a medical device, ask your prospective surgeon these questions:

  • What kind of training did you receive for this device?
    • Did you watch videos?
    • Attend a training session led by the manufacturer?
    • Participate in surgeries led by more experienced surgeons? How many?
    • Other training?
  • How many operations have you performed using this exact device in your career? How many in the past year?
  • Will a medical device sales rep be present during my procedure? If so, what role will he/she play?

What about outcomes?

Not all surgeons have the same results. And there are no guarantees in medicine. But it is a good idea to learn about expected outcomes for each surgeon you consider. Ask prospective surgeons:

  • What are the expected outcomes?
  • What do you consider a successful outcome?
  • What’s your success rate?
  • What are all the possible risks and complications for my situation? Do the risks decrease with a less invasive option?
  • What kinds of complications have you experienced with similar patients?

Where will the operation take place?

photo modern hospital buildingWhere you have the operation is almost as important as which surgeon you choose. Some hospitals have better safety records than others. (You can research prospective hospitals on the websites listed in the Zaggo resource center – but realize there are limitations with this data). It’s important to note that there are serious safety concerns related to procedures at freestanding surgery centers. Therefore, before you schedule a procedure for a freestanding, non-hospital location, I urge you to read this blog post.

Ask these questions before scheduling an operation:

  • Where will the surgery take place?
  • Is the hospital accredited by the Joint Commission, a sign of a “gold standard”?  (Look up your hospital here.)
  • How often do surgeons perform your particular procedure at this hospital?
  • If I will be hospitalized after the surgery, will I be placed on a floor that specializes in my condition? How can you assure that will happen?
  • If the surgery will take place in an outpatient (non-hospital) surgical center:
    • Is it accredited by the Joint Commission?
    • What is the emergency plan if something goes wrong?
    • How close is the nearest hospital?

Safety concerns to consider.

All medical procedures, including surgeries, carry risks. Find out what steps your surgeon and hospital take to reduce the risk of issues during and after a surgery by asking the following questions:

  • Does the hospital enforce the use of surgical checklists?
  • What hand hygiene and other infection control programs are in place?
  • How does the hospital minimize the risk of hospital acquired infections, such as MRSA?
  • What are the infection rates for this procedure for you and for this hospital/surgical center?
  • Do you ever double book surgeries? (Note – this is when doctors go back and forth between two simultaneous operations – read this blog post to learn more about this potentially dangerous practice.)
    • Will mine be double booked?
    • If so, who else will be operating on me?
    • What tasks will you perform and what tasks will the other doctor(s) perform?

Should you change your lifestyle before the operation?

Following your doctor’s pre-surgery advice will help you succeed. Ask the questions below, and follow the guidelines given. However, it’s important to be honest with your doctor. If the surgeon tells you to do something (like quit smoking) that you think you cannot achieve, tell him/her immediately.

  • What can I do to help get the best result?
  • Should I make changes in medications, diet, exercise and/or lifestyle (e.g. quit smoking) before the surgery? For how long?
  • Should I donate blood for myself before the surgery?

Should you go to the dentist before your procedure?

In some situations, patients should have thorough dental exams before surgery to make sure there are no abscesses, infections or gum disease. Why? Because dental infections can cause bacteria in the bloodstream which in turn can cause bacteria in surgical areas. This is particularly important for heart procedures, joint replacements, and organ or stem cell transplants. Furthermore, recent research showed that patients who had dental work before cancer surgeries were less likely to develop pneumonia after surgery and less likely to die within 30 days after surgery. However, researchers also found risks associated with dental work too close to surgery, particularly for patients with heart conditions.

Talk to your surgeon and your dentist about the need for a dental examination and/or dental work before or after surgery.

What can you expect after the surgery?

photo man pushing woman in a wheelchair on city streetKnowing what to expect after your surgery will help your recovery go more smoothly. Ask these questions so you can plan accordingly:

  • Who will oversee my care after the surgery?
  • Will I need to go to rehab facility? If so, for how long? What type of facility?
  • What types of further treatment will I need after the surgery or procedure?
  • Will I need antibiotics after the surgery? Are they necessary or a precaution?
  • What changes will I need to make in medication, diet, exercise and/or lifestyle after the surgery? For how long?
  • Will it be necessary to miss work? For how long?
  • How much help with daily living activities (e.g. bathroom, eating, dressing, etc) will I need? For how long?
  • Do I need any special equipment at our home for the recovery period? If yes:
    • How do I get it?
    • For how long?
    • How will I learn how to use it?
  • How long until full activities can be resumed?

Learn more!

Surgery is a big deal. Your life might be at stake. Educating yourself will help you get the best outcome possible. For more information and tips related to surgery, read these posts:

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