Millions of Americans undergo surgery every year. But experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine stress that it's important to fully understand the procedures and to ask the right questions ahead of time. All surgeries have their risks and benefits, says Ellen Kamhi, PH.D., author of "The Natural Medicine Chest," so do your homework.
"Statistics show that between 23 million and 60 million surgical procedures are performed in the U.S. every year," she says. "Fortunately, most of these surgeries are elective, or at least not immediate, which means you have time to investigate the procedures and choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with."
Studies have shown that well-informed patients heal faster and report having a better surgical experience than those who are not, according to the American Academy of Anesthesiologists.
Here are some questions you can ask to make sure that you've got the right surgeon and procedure for you:
- What is the procedure recommended? According to Johns Hopkins, your healthcare provider should clearly explain the surgical procedure along with all other options available.
- Why is the procedure necessary? Make sure you know why the surgery will alleviate your condition.
- Are there alternatives or other non-surgical treatment options? Very often, lifestyle changes can offer remedies to certain ailments. For many conditions, experts recommend "watchful waiting" before scheduling surgery.
- What are the benefits and risks of surgery? Surgery always carries certain risks, says Kamhi, so be clear on what to expect. Also, ask your healthcare provider to explain the consequences of NOT having the procedure.
- How many of these operations have you performed? This is an important question to ask your surgeon, because you want someone with experience and ability on your team.
- Should I get a second opinion? This is almost always a good idea, say the experts at Columbia Surgery, who say that if you are making a major decision in your life, it's best to have more than one source of information.
- Where will the surgery be performed? According to Johns Hopkins, until recently most surgery was done in hospitals, but now many procedures are conducted in outpatient centers to save costs. Ask your healthcare provider why he or she prefers either setting.
- What type of anesthesia will be used? Find out whether you will need a local, regional, or general anesthesia and who will be administering the medication.
- What will my recovery be like? Your healthcare provider should help plan your recuperation after surgery so that you know your limitations and can get help or special supplies lined up if necessary.
- What are the costs of this operation? This very important question can prevent unpleasant surprises. Be sure to check with not only your healthcare provider but also your insurance provider because health plans vary on the coverage of certain procedures.
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