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Questions to Ask Before Surgery

What to ask your healthcare providers

Millions of people in the U.S. have surgery each year. It's important to learn all you can about the surgery you are advised to have. This is even more important if it's a procedure you choose to have (elective) rather than an emergency surgery. All surgeries have risks and benefits. You need to understand them before deciding if surgery is right for you.

Asking questions will help you be well-informed about the surgery and your options.  Ask healthcare providers to explain their answers clearly. Ask for more description if any details or medical terms are unclear. You may find it helpful to write your questions down ahead of time. Then write down the answers as they tell you. Or, bring a trusted family member or friend to take notes for you.

Below are important questions to review with your healthcare providers:

  • What is the surgery and how is it done?

    The healthcare provider should explain the surgery clearly. They should explain the steps involved and give examples. Ask if there are different ways of doing this surgery. Ask why they choose their way. Ask if there will be other healthcare providers in the room during surgery and what their roles are.

  • Why do I need the surgery?

    Reasons to have surgery may vary. They may include easing or preventing pain, diagnosing a problem, or improving body function. Ask your healthcare provider to explain why this procedure is advised for you. Make sure you understand how it may improve your health.

  • What are my alternatives? Are there other treatment choices for me?

    In some cases, treatments such as medicine, exercises, or lifestyle changes may be as helpful as surgery. Your healthcare provider should clearly explain the benefits and risks of these choices. This is so you can make an informed decision about whether to have surgery. Sometimes watchful waiting is an option. This is when your healthcare provider monitors your condition over time. They can observe changes and the progression of a disease. You may still need surgery. Or you may be able to delay surgery if your health gets better or stays the same. After a period of watchful waiting, surgery may still be the best choice.

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

    It's important for your healthcare provider to tell you the benefits of having surgery. Ask how long the benefits last. Some benefits last only a short time. As a result, you may need a second surgery. Other benefits may last a lifetime. Ask about the goals of the surgery. Remember that these goals are unique to each person.

    Also ask your healthcare provider about published information on people's real results after the surgery. This will help you make an informed decision and have realistic expectations about the surgery.

  • What are the risks and possible complications of the surgery?

    Surgery always has some risks. So it's important to weigh the benefits against the risks before surgery. Ask the healthcare provider to tell you the possible complications, such as infection and bleeding. Ask them to tell you the possible after effects of the surgery. Make sure you understand when to get medical care after surgery if you have problems. 

  • What may happen if I don't have the surgery?

    If you decide not to have the surgery, what will happen? You need to know if the condition will get worse or if there's a chance that it may resolve on its own.

  • Should I get a second opinion?

    Some health plans may require people to get a second opinion before having elective surgery. Your healthcare provider should be able to give you the names of qualified people who also do the procedure.

  • What is your experience in doing this surgery?

    You can reduce the risks of surgery by choosing a healthcare provider who's fully trained and experienced in doing the procedure. Ask them how many times they have done the surgery. Ask what their success rate is, and their rate of complications.

  • Where will the surgery be done?

    Until recently, most surgery was done in hospitals. But now many procedures are done on an outpatient basis or in ambulatory surgical centers. Some of these are in a hospital. This lowers the cost of these procedures since you're not paying for a hospital room. Some procedures may still need to be done on an inpatient basis. Your overall health is also considered when deciding where the surgery will be done. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider why they advise either setting.

  • What type of anesthesia will be used?

    The healthcare provider should tell you if a local, regional, or general anesthesia will be given and why this type of anesthesia is advised for your procedure. You should also ask who will be giving the anesthesia. Is it an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist? Both of these providers are highly qualified to give anesthesia. Ask to meet with that person before your surgery.

  • What can I expect during recovery?

    Ask what to expect in the days, weeks, and months after surgery. You need to know how long you will be in the hospital. Ask how you will need to manage any pain after surgery. Ask what limits will be placed on you after surgery. Find out if there are special supplies or equipment you will need when you go home. Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help you to cope and recover more quickly. You can also ask when you can resume work and your everyday activities, and how long it takes for a full recovery.

  • What are the costs of this surgery?

    Health insurance plans vary in their coverage of different procedures. Because of this, there may be costs you will have to pay. Ask the healthcare provider's office the costs of the surgery, and how much your health insurance will cover. You may need to call your health insurance company to find out. 

Tips for talking with your healthcare provider

It's important to communicate your feelings, questions, and concerns with your healthcare provider before having surgery. These suggestions may help:

  • If you don't understand your healthcare provider's responses, ask questions until you do.

  • Take notes or ask a family member or friend to come with you and take notes for you.

  • Ask your healthcare provider to write down instructions, if needed.

  • Ask them where you can find printed material about your condition. Ask for trusted online websites.

  • If you still have questions, ask them where you can go for more information.

Learning about your surgeon

It's important to have confidence in the healthcare provider who will be doing your surgery. Make sure that this provider is qualified. To do this:

  • Ask your primary healthcare provider, your local medical society, or health insurance company for information about the healthcare provider or surgeon's experience with the procedure.

  • Ask about the healthcare provider or surgeon's credentials. Ask if they have any additional certifications or experience in the surgery.

  • Make sure the healthcare provider or surgeon is affiliated with an accredited healthcare facility. When considering surgery, where it's done is often as important as who does it.

  • Ask if your surgeon is board-certified in their specialty area.

Finding out the costs of the surgery

Before you have surgery, discuss the costs with someone from the finance department at your healthcare provider's office. These costs may include:

  • The surgeon's fee for surgery

  • Hospital fees(if you need time in the hospital) or ambulatory surgical center fees (for outpatient services). Check with the hospital's business office about these rates. Your healthcare provider or surgeon should be able to tell you how long you may 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. This includes the assisting surgeon, anesthesiologist, and other medical consultants.

Contact your health insurance company to see what's covered before scheduling any surgery. It's vital that you understand your full financial duty for your procedure. If the costs are a problem, talk with your healthcare provider's office about financial solutions before the surgery.

Getting a second opinion

Asking another healthcare provider or surgeon for a second opinion may be an important step in making sure that a procedure is the best choice for you. A second opinion can help you make an informed decision about the best treatment for your condition. It can help you weigh the risks and benefits against alternatives to the surgery.

Emergency surgery should be done as quickly as possible. Most likely, there will not be time to get a second opinion. The necessity of a second opinion should always be weighed against the urgency of the medical condition.

Several health plans now require and will pay for people to get a second opinion for some nonemergency procedures. Medicare may also pay for people to get a second opinion. Even if your plan doesn't require it, you still can ask for a second opinion.

If you decide to get a second opinion, check with your health plan to see if it's covered. Your primary healthcare provider or hospital can provide you with names of qualified healthcare providers. Make sure to get your medical records from your first healthcare provider so that the second one doesn't need to repeat tests and procedures.

Online Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.