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Outpatient Surgery 101

Questions To Ask Before Agreeing To Outpatient Surgery

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With respect to the surgery

  • Ask the same questions about the procedure you would before agreeing to any surgery. For a list of questions to consider, click here.
  • Check the surgeon's credentials. To learn how, click here.

With respect to the facility

As a general matter, complication rates are low for outpatient procedures. Complications related to surgery occur less than 1% of the time in outpatient settings. However, it is important to check to find out what procedures are in place where the outpatient procedure will take place in case there is an emergency and additional medical skills and/or equipment is required.

  • Ask your doctor about your "physical status classification." The American Society of Anesthesiologists uses a numerical scale to assess a patient's surgical risks. In general, patients with a lower PS score of one through three are good candidates.  (One means generally healthy.  Three indicates a serious disease that is not life threatening.) It is generally advised that patients with a higher number have procedures performed in a hospital setting.
  • Check the facility
    • What is the accreditation/certification of the facility in which the surgery will be performed?
      • Is the facility accredited by an independent accrediting agency?  In addition to asking the doctor or nurse, you can check the following websites: 
      • Is the group certified by Medicare? (the doctor or facility can answer this question for you)
    • Who owns it?  If t he clinic is owned by your doctor, be wary. There is a conflict of interest and the clinic may not be your best option.
    • If anesthesia will be provided so that you will not be awake during the procedure:
      • Who will provide it? What are the person's medical credentials and experience? Particularly look to find out whether the person is board certified.
      • Will the anesthesia be local or general? (General is when you are rendered unconscious). 
      • If anesthesia will be general, how will I be monitored?
    • What steps are taken to prevent infection?
    • Is the recovery area staffed by a nurse?
    • What arrangements are available in the event of an emergency?  For example: 
      • Is there a so-called "crash cart" (equipment and drugs that are used for cardiac emergencies) on site? 
      • What plans are in place to transfer patients to a hospital if necessary? 
      • How far away is the nearest hospital emergency room?  Does the doctor have privileges in that hospital?
      • NOTE: If the procedure will occur in a hospital setting, the resources of the entire hospital are available in case of an emergency. Non-hospital settings are not as regulated as hospitals.
  • Ask about pain management. Some doctors do not order strong painkillers on an goinging basis. 
  • Think about payment.
    • If you have health insurance:
      • Check with your insurer to see that the procedure is covered. While many outpatient surgeries are covered by insurance plans, many are not. Some insurers may require hospitalization before a procedure is covered. 
      • Find out what you may be expected to pay out of-pocket, such as for co-payments. 
      • If your insurance would cover if the procedure is done in a hospital but not in a non-hospital setting:
        • First, find out the difference in cost for performing the procedure in a hospital outpatient setting compared to a non-hospital setting. 
        • Then, contact a supervisor in the insurance company. Explain how much less expensive it is for the insurer if you do the surgery on an outpatient basis than if you are hospitalized. 
        • If the insurer refuses, you can ask to have the surgery performed in the hospital setting.   
    • If you do not have health insurance, or your health insurance does not cover the procedure, ask:
      • How much will the procedure cost? 
      • Is the doctor willing to negotiate price?
      • Can you pay in installments?
      • Does the doctor work with a company that finances procedures?
      • Read the Survivorship A to Z article about obtaining surgery without health insurance
  • If you develop complications, who do you contact and how can you make contact 24/7?

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