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Surgery 101


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If you are an informed consumer, you can help maximize the chance for success of a surgery, minimize the risks, and possibly save money. As you will see from this article, being informed includes a variety of subjects. Reading them all, particularly at one go, can be overwhelming. Instead, we suggest starting by scanning our information for an overview but only reading the area(s) of immediate concern. You, a family member or friend, can return as often as needed.

Before Agreeing To Surgery

Gather as much information as you can. For instance:

Before agreeing to surgery, consider getting a second, independent opinion from another doctor who is not in your doctor's same practice. Second opinions are so important that most health insurance covers them. To learn about second opinions, including how to get one, click here.

NOTE: Do not let fear keep you from having surgery. If fear is interfering with your decision, or becomes difficult after you agree to surgery, see: How To Cope With Fear Of A Treatment 

Once You Agree To Surgery 

Consider taking the following steps to help assure a positive outcome:

  • Choose the surgeon and the facility in which the surgery will occur with care. To learn how, click here. 
  • If you have a choice about when to have surgery, common wisdom suggests the following:
    • Ity is preferable not have surgery on a Friday or just before a holiday. Hospitals tend to have less staff on a weekend and during a holiday to tend to your needs and in the event of an emergency.
    • Avoid surgery in July. It is when the new medical school graduates start working at hospitals. 
  • Follow time tested tips to help assure a successful result. For example:
    • If there is time, do what you can to build yourself up physically and mentally before the operation. 
    • If you smoke, stop as soon as you can (at least 3 days before the operation). 
    • Give your surgeon a list of all the medications you are taking. Include those you recently discontinued. Also include over the counter medications, supplements and herbs.
    • For additional tips, click here
  • What to do and what not to do, and what to expect immediately before an operation
  • What to expect immediately after an operation
  • If the surgery will take place in a surgery center instead of a hospital
    • Keep in mind that surgery centers do not generally have the same safey standards as hospitals. They are also generally not required to have the trained staff and equipment needed to provide a lot of emergency care.
    • Ask about what happens if there is an emergency. Will trained staff be in attendance during your operation? Does the center just call 911?
    • Ask if your doctor has a financial interest in the center.  If so, it is particularly important to ask whether the center is the best option for you.
  • If the surgery will be in a hospital, it is worth taking a few moments to learn the following. If you do not want to take the time, consider asking a family member or friend to check for you. Knowledge can help prevent infection, medical errors and save you money. 

After the Surgery

 What you can do to avoid medical error related to the surgery.

  • Before the surgery: For instance, try to have the surgery scheduled for early in the week (not before a holiday) and early in the morning. Hospitals tend to be understaffed on weekends and holidays. An early morning operation is ideal because the surgeon will be fresher. It is also easier to get through the prep period without eating and delays are less likely. To learn about the rest of the steps you can take before surgery to help avoid medical error, click here
  • After the surgery: There are steps you can take to minimize chance of medical error after surgery. For instance, ask about the use of a spirometer (a breathing device). For additional tips, see: What you can do to help minimize chance of medical error after surgery.

it is worthwhile to learn about:

  • The questions to consider asking after surgery
  • What to do after discharge from the hospital.  
  • Find out what recovery will be like, how long you can expect recovery to take, and what you can and cannot do during that period of time. If changes will be needed in your home, make them before the surgery.  For additional questions to ask after surgery, click here.
  • Expect anxiety and possibly even depression or an anxiety attack before the surgery. Don't be surprised if there is a period of depression after the surgery. If the emotions interfere with your life, tell your doctor. He or she may prescribe medications. The articles in "To Learn More" describe non-drug methods to help in these situations.

NOTE: If you don't have a Will, or Advance Directives such as a Living Will, a Health Care Proxy or a DNR, now is a good time to consider executing them "just in case." Writing the documents does not mean that you will need them. On the other hand, if something does happen, you may be submitted to long term procedures and expense that neither you or  your family want.  If you already have A Will and/or Advance Directives, check to make sure they still express your wishes. See the articles in "To Learn More."

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