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Having Surgery: 10 Questions Every Patient Should Ask

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Having Surgery or Other Medical Procedures

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Updated November 06, 2008

Being admitted to the hospital for surgery or other medical procedures can be a challenging experience, even for the most seasoned patient. Getting your questions answered before being hospitalized will ensure that you are fully informed.

To better prepare you, here are 10 questions to ask your doctor before having surgery:

1. What Is the Reason for My Surgery?

You would be surprised at how many patients get admitted to the hospital without a clue as to the specific nature of their admission. Knowing your medical diagnosis, the reason for your hospitalization and what surgery you are going to have, should be the first questions asked of your doctor. Most importantly, if you don't understand something, ask for clarification in simple, uncomplicated terms, until you do understand.

Still having trouble understanding your doctor? There may be educational materials available in written video or DVD format that she can provide you with to help you better understand your surgery.

2. Why Do I Need This Surgery?

Whether it be to obtain a diagnosis, to improve a body function or to save your life, there are many reasons why your doctor may recommend surgery. In order to make an informed decision, you need to know the specifics, which includes a general picture of how the surgery is performed and how it will affect the outcome of your condition.

3. What Risks Are Involved With This Surgery?

All medical procedures carry with them a certain level of risk. While some are minimal, others are extreme. In order for you to give informed consent, you must know what risks are involved and to what extent they may affect you. Without knowing the risks, you should not consent to a procedure.

4. What Are the Benefits of This Surgery?

Just like every surgical procedure has risks, substantial benefits should exist in order for you to subject yourself to it. Ask your doctor to explain the benefits to you and if they will be short or long-term. Doctors usually recommend surgery only if the benefits outweigh the risks.

5. Is Alternative Treatment an Option?

Is there an alternative treatment option, and if so, why is your doctor opting for surgery before trying it? Exploring alternative treatment options with your doctor should include the risks and benefits associated with alternative treatment, as well.

6. What Are the Likely Results If I Don't Have Surgery?

After learning the risks and benefits associated with your surgery, you may decide you don't want it after all. Ask your doctor what could happen to you if you choose to go without the surgery. Will it make your condition worse? Will your quality of life be jeopardized? Your doctor may not be able to foresee the future, but she should be able to give you a general picture of the expected outcome of your condition without surgery.

7. What Are Your Qualifications?

One way to reduce the risks associated with having surgery is to choose a doctor who is experienced and qualified. Don't be embarrassed to ask your doctor about her qualifications. Is she a board certified surgeon? How many times has she performed this procedure prior to this? Will there be other doctors assisting in the surgery? For more information about obtaining your doctors qualifications, contact the American College of Surgeons.

8. How Long Will My Recovery Take?

Every surgery is different, as is every patient. With this in mind, recovery times will vary from person to person. Your doctor should be able to provide you with a rough estimate as to how long it will take you to recover, including how many days you will spend in the hospital.

Be sure to ask about post-surgical diet and activity levels. Are your restricted from lifting or bending? When can you resume regular exercise? What kind of diet should you be on? What about resuming sexual activity? Knowing post-surgical instructions in advance will make recovery that much easier.

9. Do I Have a Co-Pay?

Nothing is more alarming than trying to recover from surgery and being hit with an unexpected co-pay. Make sure that you discuss your co-pay with your doctor before having surgery, and what if any, payment arrangements can be made.

10. What About a Second Opinion?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a second opinion if you are facing a serious operation. Make sure to call your insurance company in advance, however, to see if second opinions are covered under your plan. This way, unexpected charges can be avoided.

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