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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Should You Get Surgery?

Many older adults will face the question of whether or not to undergo surgery. Here’s what to check before you make that decision. 

Millions of Americans have surgery every year. But if it’s you deciding whether or not to undergo elective surgery, it’s important to ask the right questions so you can understand your options. There are risks and benefits to any type of surgical procedure, and understanding them is key to making a good decision as well as being happy with the outcome. 

Here are key questions to ask before you decide to get surgery.

  • What exactly does the operation involve? Ask your provider exactly what will be done during the procedure, and if there are alternate ways of doing it. If there are, ask why they prefer a certain method. 

It May Be Time for Surgery If…  

  • You’ve tried to manage the condition through non-surgical means, but you’ve been unsuccessful. 
  • Your condition or pain is getting worse.
  • Your quality of life is getting worse.
  • Your doctor has told you that surgery is your best option.

Collecting Information

Most of us are not at our best as far as recalling information accurately when we are under stressful circumstances, such as when we’re gathering information about a potential surgery. It’s wise to have a backup to help review what you’ve heard and make sense of recommendations.

Bringing a spouse or trusted partner along to an appointment with your surgeon can be a big help. They can provide another set of ears and help ask questions that you may overlook. This person can also take notes for you to go through afterward.

Ask your doctor for printed information about the procedure you’re considering. 

Using the Abridge app will help you record, summarize and structure medical conversations so that you and your doctor will be able to refer back to what was said, clarify if needed, or add more information. 

Never be afraid to keep asking questions until you fully understand what your doctor is trying to communicate. 

If you’ll be in the hospital, patient advocates or nurse navigators can liaison between the hospital and the patient to explain procedures and guide the patient through what can be a complex system.

  • Why is the surgery needed? Will the surgery only relieve pain, or will it allow you to live longer or have more energy or other benefits? Don’t assume you know the answer.
  • What are the alternatives? There are always alternatives, such as “watchful waiting” to see if the condition improves or worsens over time. There may also be less-invasive procedures. 
  • What are the benefits? Ask specifically what benefits you can expect, and how long they may last. Your healthcare provider should be able to give you published data about likely outcomes. 
  • What are the risks? Every surgery carries the risk of complications, so it’s important to ask this question before making any decisions. You should talk with your doctor about side effects you should look for, and how any pain will be managed afterward. 
  • Where can I get a second opinion? Many insurance plans will cover getting a second opinion for certain procedures, or you may choose to get one for your own peace of mind. Your doctor should be able to give you names of other qualified individuals who can advise you, or you can pick a general practitioner in the field. 
  • What are my doctor’s credentials? If you want to check on your surgeon’s credentials, you can research board certifications at the American Board of Surgery website. The website for your doctor’s practice often features a short bio on each of the practitioners.
  • How many of these procedures has the surgeon done? “Practice makes perfect” is often true, and you’ll want to ask how many of this particular surgery your doctor has done over their career, and in the last year. If they can’t recall or get huffy, it’s time to look for another surgeon.
  • Will I go to the hospital? Nowadays many surgeries are performed at outpatient facilities, obviating the need for a hospital room and associated costs. But some procedures will still require admitting you to a hospital. Ask your doctor where your surgery will be done, and why. 
  • How will anesthesia be given? Will you get local, regional, or general anesthesia, and why? What will the effects be? Who will be giving your anesthesia?
  • What will recovery be like? How long will you be in the hospital or center, what restrictions will you have following surgery and for how long? Will you need any special supplies or equipment to help you recover? What are the best- and worse-case scenarios?
  • How much will it cost? You will need to check with your health plan provider to see what your plan covers and how much you’ll be expected to pay. Check what the cost would be for any alternate treatment or surgery.