6 Questions To Ask Before Surgery
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For many people, undergoing surgery is an unsettling prospect. Unfortunately, the fact that medical mistakes are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S. doesn’t make the process any easier.
No surgery is entirely without risk, but competent and careful surgeons and medical professionals do everything they can to ensure their patients are safe. Nevertheless, surgical mistakes happen, which is why it’s important to go into any surgical procedure as knowledgeable and informed as possible. Before you go under the knife, there are six questions you should ask your doctor or surgeon.
1. Why Am I Having This Surgery?
It may sound obvious, but it’s important to understand exactly why you’re having a surgical procedure. Furthermore, your doctor should always make time available to explain the procedure to you fully. If you have any questions, make sure your doctor takes time to answer them. There is a difference between elective surgery, which is optional, and necessary surgery. Every patient should know whether the surgery is really necessary or is just a treatment option.
2. What Will Occur During the Surgery?
Ask what the step-by-step process is for your particular surgery. Taking the time to do this can help put your mind at ease as well as make you more informed on your overall health.
Your doctor may try to tell you “everything will be fine,” but this isn’t enough information. While you may not fully understand complex medical processes, your doctor should be able to break them down into everyday terms. In some medical malpractice cases, patients report not fully understanding what occurred during their surgery because their doctor never bothered to explain it to them.
For example, will you have a traditional incision, or will the doctor use laparoscopic surgery that features a couple of small entrance points? Will your surgery involve robotic-assisted surgery? What kind of instrumentation, if any, will the doctor put inside your body? Are there any negative side effects or complications associated with the materials the doctor will use?
These are all standard questions you should consider asking, and your doctor should make sure he or she gives you thorough answers.
3. What are the Risks, Benefits and Alternatives to Surgery?
For some diseases and medical conditions, surgery is the best option among several different alternatives. In other cases, surgery may be the more aggressive approach, and some doctors may recommend trying something more conservative first. Doctors vary on how they prefer to address certain conditions, and it’s important to know if there are other doctors out there who might advocate for a different route.
Learning about your different options is where you might consider obtaining a second or sometimes even a third opinion. Your doctor should be willing to tell you what other doctors in the field recommend for cases similar to yours.
It is also critically important to be fully advised of the risks of surgery. These can involve general risks common to all surgical procedures, such as bleeding and infection, or may be specific to the particular operation or procedure being considered. For example, a screening colonoscopy carries an approximately 1 in 1200 risk of perforation of the colon – a potentially serious or fatal complication. This must be balanced against the potential benefit of the procedure, which is the early diagnosis of colon cancer. Breast augmentation or reduction surgery carries with it the risks of skin necrosis, infection and scarring and lack of symmetry, which can usually be avoided by proper technique and follow-up by the surgeon.
4. What Do I Need to Know About Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a part of most surgeries, but it can also involve potentially serious complications. In most cases, patients meet with the anesthesiologist, who can answer questions about what types of anesthesia will be used during the surgery. The anesthesiologist should also ask you about any past complications you may have had with anesthesia, along with any allergies or medical conditions that could make certain kinds of anesthesia unsafe.
5. What Should I Expect During Recovery?
The recovery process is a big part of any surgery. If you don’t know what to expect, you might not recognize when something has gone wrong or needs medical attention.
For example, it’s important for patients to know the warning signs of infection so they can seek medical help if they start to experience a high fever, dizziness or any of the other telltale signs of an infection following surgery. It’s also important to know what type of normal bleeding to expect after your procedure, versus what you should look for to spot abnormal bleeding. Excessive or unusual amounts of pain can also be a tip-off that there is a serious problem that may need immediate medical attention.
6. What Happens If a Mistake Occurs?
Always ask doctors what they will do if the surgery doesn’t go as planned, or what happens if they make a mistake during the surgery. Each surgery is different, and no amount of advanced planning can anticipate every potential problem.
If your doctor brushes off your concerns or makes you feel bad for asking questions, you might consider choosing another surgeon for your procedure. If the doctor won’t give you the time of day before the surgery, what kind of response can you expect if you experience problems afterward? Your doctor should treat you with respect and courtesy before and throughout the entire surgical process.
What to Do If You Have Experienced a Surgical Mistake
If you believe your doctor made a mistake during your surgery, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. There is a short window of time for filing this type of claim, which is why it’s best to speak to a medical malpractice lawyer if you suspect your surgeon engaged in medical malpractice.
Manhattan Medical Malpractice Attorney Jonathan C. Reiter
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.