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Need surgery? Knowing what to ask beforehand can make all the difference.

If you’ve been told you need surgery, you might have a list of questions a mile long. Or you might not know what to ask. Before you have a procedure, arm yourself with as much information as possible. Not sure where to start? Consider asking your healthcare provider these things.

Why do I need it?

“Your provider will explain why you need the procedure and how it will help,” says Manuel Martinez, Jr., MD, general surgeon at Geisinger. 

They can also talk about the steps involved and any tests you might need beforehand. And they may discuss different options, like laparoscopic or robotic procedures. This will give you an idea of what to expect and help you make an informed decision if surgery is optional.

What are the pros and cons?

After you learn more about the procedure, it’s good to inquire about the pros and cons. Your provider can explain things like:

  • Potential risks or complications
  • Drawbacks to not having it done
  • The recovery process
  • Impact on quality of life
  • Necessary lifestyle modifications

“Understanding the pros and cons of the procedure can help put your mind at ease,” Dr. Martinez says.

What happens if I have a complication?

Your provider will also discuss potential complications. And they can walk you through how they’ll handle them.

Where do you have privileges?

When a surgeon has hospital admitting privileges, they can access the facility and admit patients there. Privileges give them access to your care after the procedure, too. Providers don’t have universal access. You’ll want to know where they can perform your surgery in case it’s a facility that’s not covered by your insurance or far away.

Do I need a second opinion?

When you get a second opinion, the second provider reviews your medical history and background to make their recommendation — which may be different than your provider’s original recommendations. 

“A second opinion puts another set of eyes on your diagnosis and explores other potential treatments,” says Dr. Martinez.

You might opt for a second opinion if you want to:

  • Get more information about your diagnosis
  • Stay close to home
  • Look for surgical alternatives, such as minimally-invasive procedures
  • Find a doctor or facility that specializes in the surgery you need

How many times do you perform this surgery each year?

When it comes to surgery, the amount a facility performs matters. Surgical volume refers to the number of times a facility performs a specific procedure in a given time. When considering surgery, look for an experienced surgeon who has performed your procedure many times. And for a facility that does a lot of that procedure. Not only does it mean they have a lot of experience; it may also make a difference in your health afterward.

“The more often a surgeon or hospital performs a procedure, the better,” Dr. Martinez notes. “If you have a procedure done somewhere that does a lot of that particular surgery in a year, you’re more likely to have a better outcome.”

Once you have the information you need from your surgeon, there’s one more question to ask.

What does your insurance cover?

Before deciding on a procedure, check with your insurance carrier to determine what they’ll cover. To understand the total cost, ask about your:

  • Deductible
  • Copay
  • Coinsurance

Your facility must disclose the cost of your procedure as well.

Weigh your options

If you’re worried about what to ask (or about asking questions in the first place), it’s normal. But you have a right to know what to expect. That’s why it’s important to speak up if you don’t fully understand something. Your provider is happy to explain the procedure in simple, easy-to-understand terms.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Dr. Martinez says. “We want you to get as much information as you need.”

Once you talk things over with your surgeon, you can start the process. You’ll work together to build a treatment plan that takes you through your operation into recovery and beyond.

Next steps:

Upcoming operation? Here’s how to recover sooner
Traditional vs. robotic surgery
Meet Manuel Martinez Jr., MD