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8 Questions to Ask Prior to Surgery

When surgery is being recommended, there are several questions you may want to ask. Here are 8 questions covering such topics as alternatives to surgery, ways to avoid medical errors, recovery from surgery and participating in your treatment plan. Being an empowered patient means you ask a lot of questions, and keep asking until you feel comfortable with all of the answers.

When you have an illness or injury and your trusted doctor recommends surgery, it may be difficult to say you want to think about it. Or, you may have been sent to a well-respected specialist who says you need surgery, and you are reluctant to disagree. What is good to remember is that doctors can disagree about what is best for you. Various options may be available to you, and you may want to get a second medical opinion before you decide what you want to do.

1. What are my treatment options, in addition to surgery?

You need to be aware of the available treatment options for your particular medical problem, and the risks and benefits of each. You may not know about these other options unless you ask. Also, consider the success rate for the proposed surgery. There may be other options that are just as effective as surgery, or you may find that surgery is a far better choice for you.

2. Do I need a second opinion?

It may feel like you are being disloyal to your doctor by asking for a second opinion, but it is your right as a patient, and it will help you to make an informed decision.

Specialists may differ in what types of treatment they would recommend. For example, a surgeon may prefer surgery, and an oncologist (cancer doctor) may prefer chemotherapy and/or radiation for treating cancer. Because of this potential bias, it is possible to get different recommendations about the same diagnosis.

3. What can I expect after my surgery?

If you decide to have surgery, it is important to have information about the recovery time, pain medications, likely physical limitations, suture and scar care, the number of follow-up appointments, and the possible complications from the surgery.

You will want to be prepared for the expected recovery time and know if you are likely to need pain management. It may be that you would be prescribed pain medication for a period of time, and then you would take over-the-counter pain killers. Also, let the doctor know what pain medications have and have not worked for you in the past. If you have a choice, choose a hospital or clinic where this procedure has been performed successfully on many patients.

4. What about allergic reactions?

Be sure to tell the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses about any allergies or bad reactions you may have had to anesthesia or to any other medications. This will help them to select the anesthetic and all medications that are appropriate for you.

5. Do I continue to take my prescribed medications and supplements? Do I need to provide a list to the doctor?

In addition to talking to your surgeon about allergic reactions, provide him or her with a complete written list of all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicine, supplements, and herbal remedies.

Find out what items, if any, need to be withheld and what items need to be continued until after the surgery. Provide your surgeon with a written list of all adverse reactions you have had to anesthesia and other medicines.

6. What physical limitations will I have?

Regarding physical limitations, you may be required to exercise even if it is painful, or you may be required to stop if it is painful. Ask what level of exercise will best promote your recovery.

7. How do I care for the surgery site?

Ask for written instructions about scar and suture care, so you know what to expect and when the sutures will be removed. You will want to know what situations would require you to see your doctor right away, and what is only a normal part of recovery.

8. How can I prevent a medical error?

The most common medical error relates to medications. Keep track of the size, dosage and color of your prescribed medications so you can tell if something is different. Have your doctor check your medication list to be sure there are no items that were omitted from it (when comparing your pre-surgery list with your post-surgery list).

Immediately prior to surgery, it is a great idea to sign your initials near the site of the surgery. This can prevent having surgery at the wrong site, such as, on the left elbow instead of the right elbow. For example, you would write on the non-surgery side, "not this elbow." Having surgery on the wrong arm or leg is not a common occurrence, but one mistake like this is one too many! Please remember, it is best to be fully informed about your treatment plan and the options that you have. If surgery is your best choiceFree Reprint Articles, be sure you understand what the process will be from surgery to recovery. Be your own best advocate. Keep asking questions until you fully understand the situation.

Article Tags: Physical Limitations

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Smalltown Duo, owned by Sibyl Day and Mary Benson, specializes in medical and legal books for consumers. They publish a popular book called "What Did the Doctor Say? A Guide for Leaving the Hospital." The book covers topics such as questions to ask about your diagnosis, surgery, medications, doctor visits, and avoiding common medical errors. For more information, visit their website.

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