Gan Pou Wee
M.Pharm, MBBS, BCPS, R.Ph
There are thousands of surgeries and procedures going on daily all over the world. From minor to major surgeries, they all carry potential risks and benefits. It is of utmost importance that patients understand what they are about to go through before deciding to take the risk. Even though patients may have many burning questions they would like to ask their doctor or surgeon about the surgery, they might not know which are the important ones to ask. Furthermore, the stress and the fear of a potential upcoming surgery may also put patients in a state where they are not able to think clearly, and their judgment is probably clouded by anxiety.
Compiled here, is a list of questions that are important to ask prior to the surgery or procedure. For some people, writing down their questions ahead of time might be helpful too. Do not be shy when having trouble understanding what the doctor or surgeon had explained. Clarify your doubts with them. A well-informed patient would be inclined to be more satisfied with the results of the surgery as they are put into proper perspective on what to expect.
Why do you need the surgery?
Your doctor or surgeon usually would explain to you why do you need to have this surgery or procedure. It may relieve you of pain, or it may be necessary to obtain a diagnosis, or it may cure the disease. If in doubt, clarify with them why it is recommended to have this surgery and how it may help you.
Is surgery the only option? Are other options available?
At times, surgery is one option out of several treatment methods. If that is the case, you will have to decide for yourself, with advice from your doctor of course, which treatment is most acceptable for you.
What are the consequences of not having the surgery?
Although there are many conditions that may be successfully treated with surgery, the outcomes might not benefit the patient much. Certain conditions may get worse without surgery, some may get better, while some just stay the same. If surgery is not a necessity and the disease is not causing you too much duress, then you might want to consider other treatment options.
What are the potential benefits of the surgery? Is the benefit going to last?
This is one of the most important questions to ask. You would want to know how the surgery or procedure is going to help you. Will it relieve pain? Will it be able to make your life more comfortable? Will it cure the disease? Will it prolong your lifespan? This puts you in perspective in what to expect realistically for the surgery. It’s also prudent to ask how long would the potential benefit last. Certain surgeries only benefit the patient for a period and may require a repeat surgery after time while others may last longer than the lifespan of the patient.
What are the potential risks of the surgery?
After asking about the potential benefits, it is sensible to also enquire about the potential risks. You would want to know what are the most common risks and how long would their effects last. Apart from the common risks, you would want to know what are the most serious risks, even though they may be rare. After knowing the potential risk versus benefits can you make an informed decision.
Are there different types of surgeries to treat my current condition?
After knowing if there are other treatment options, you would also want to know if there are other surgical options. Certain surgeries may be carried out with more than one method. You would want to ask your doctor what the options are, what are the differences between them, and which I method is he most confident in doing.
Here are some examples of different types of surgeries
- Minimally invasive surgery: The surgeon will make small cuts with the aid of special tools and camera to work on the surgery
- Open surgery: Usually a large cut so that the surgeon may explore and rectify what’s wrong directly on the organs or parts of the body
- Endoscopic procedures: This is where the procedure is carried out using a tube with a camera at the end to access an orifice of the body such as the stomach, the vagina and/or uterus, the bladder or the colon.
Approximately how long will the typical recovery period take and what it entails?
Some surgery may take a few days to recovers, some several months. Knowing how long will the typical recovery period take allows you to plan ahead, inform your employers, and also arrange people to care for you during this period. Furthermore, you would want to know what to expect days, weeks and months after the surgery. For example, you might want to know when can you start walking around? When can you start eating? Certain surgeries may have restrictions on the patients, or may involve special equipment attached to you which restrict activities.
Here is a list of other questions that you might want to ask your doctor regarding the recovery period:
- Is there a lot of pain to be expected after the surgery?
- What is the duration of hospitalisation?
- Will you require any assistance when you return home?
- Will you be able to do the things you normally do and how long will it take for you to be able to start doing them?
- When will you be able to go back to work?
Would you have to miss work for a long period of time?
As a continuation to the previous question, missing work for a long period of time may be detrimental to certain patients whom are financially critical.
What kind of experience does the surgeon have in carrying out this surgery or procedure?
You would want to ask the surgeon how experienced he/she is in the carry out this surgery and what his success rates are. Find out how many of these surgeries had he/she done is the past year. Also, certain hospitals may specialize in treating certain conditions. These hospitals usually will have support staff, such as nurses, with more experience in this filed or procedures, and also more extensive facilities for recovery.
What type of anaesthesia would be used for the surgery?
There are many types of anaesthesia, some will only numb a small area of the skin, some will numb and entire limb or part of the body, and of course there is general anaesthesia that knocks the patient out. Generally, the anaesthetist who is in-charged of your case would also see you before the surgery to assess your condition and discuss the options for anaesthesia.
How much is the cost for the surgery or procedure?
You will also want to know the estimated total cost of the surgery including hospitalisation, anaesthesia, cost of equipment or implants and other various cost. This will allow you to forecast and set aside money for this surgery. Although you may be covered by insurance, but be sure to speak to your insurance companyto enquire about what is covered and what co-pays do you have to pay. Certain insurance companies may require you to pay upfront, before making the claims with them. Lastly, if the procedure is too expensive for you, you may ask the doctor if thereare less costly alternatives.
Bonus Questions. Questions for yourself
Do I want a second opinion?
Do not be worried that you might offend the doctor in charge of your case if you want a second opinion. In fact, they should offer to point you in the right direction of other experts in the field that suit your needs. A good person to go to is your family doctor whom you trust, although he is not likely to be an expert in this particular field, he would understand your situation better and likely to recommend you to another doctor who is an expert in treating your disease.
Is there anybody there to care for me at home during the recovery period from surgery?
This may seem like a no brainer, but during the recovery period, patients may be too weak, or have certain restrictions to movement that may temporarily require care from others. Make you have make prior arrangements to make sure you are well cared for and recover faster.
- Patient education: Questions to ask if you are having surgery or a procedure (The Basics) [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2016 [cited 7 September 2017]. Available from: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/questions-to-ask-if-you-are-having-surgery-or-a-procedure-the-basics
- Questions to Ask Before Surgery | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library [Internet]. Hopkinsmedicine.org. [cited 7 September 2017]. Available from: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/surgical_care/questions_to_ask_before_surgery_85,P01409