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Questions To Ask Before Surgery

Questions To Ask Before Surgery

Posted: July 11, 2016
By Dr. Tim Bartholow, WEA Trust Chief Medical Officer


For this blog, let's say you're an employer with many employees. How might an employer help employees?

Chances are at least one of your employees will have surgery this year. Sometimes this will be emergency surgery, and we won't be able to make a plan. But when we have a chance to plan, elective surgery certainly shouldn't be rushed in to. As patients we all need to be more thoughtful about how we approach the operating table. We need to think carefully about the benefits but also the real risks.

What can you do to support your employees? Encourage them to act like news reporters and go get the facts of their surgical story. Why? Because:

  • 1. It's a smarter way to use a health plan

  • 2. Getting answers will lessen their worry

  • 3. In the long run, asking questions will improve their own health outcomes, and the way the healthcare system works for them.

What questions should your employees be asking?

Personally, because surgery is altering your wisely-constructed body, I like to see patients try all options before having surgery, where possible. First, have employees ask if a medication or lifestyle change can help manage their condition (remember Ann the librarian?).

To help, share the following checklist of smart consumer questions: 

    • Do I really need this surgery? Why now?

    • Am I fit for surgery? 

    • Is this surgery evidence-based? 

    • What's your track record? (It really is okay for you to want to know success rates) 

    • Will the surgery require a hospital stay? How many days? How will I be transitioned out of the hospital? 

    • What's recovery like? Will my daily activity be limited? Will I need special equipment?

Next, encourage employees to inquire about costs-but warn them that their docs might not always know the price. You can help direct their questions about surgical fees, second opinions, and the cost of a day in the hospital to a doctor's financial office or your health plan.

Finally, empower employees to ask for a simpler answer, free of medical jargon. Really understanding the answers is key. We shouldn't say "Okay, I understand" if we don't. 

"Will I be all right?" That's the real question.

I've been on all sides - as patient, doctor, concerned employer and inquisitive employee. Folks want to know that everything will turn out all right. Getting answers can chip away at those fears and raise the confidence needed in our surgical team.

Remember, you and your employees are only going to get a better partnership if we are better, more aware partners. Fact is, doctors want to work to solve problems for you and your staff. They want to be more responsive to you, the healthcare customer, but they have to know your fears, your questions.

Simply put, the more folks get answers, the more we'll all have a say in improving our healthcare system. Information is power. And we are all responsible to improve our system with and for each other. - so let's all ask questions together.

Post this shorthand list of questions in your employee break room:

    • What happens during surgery?

    • Why is it needed?

    • Are there non-surgical options?

    • Surgical benefits? How long will they last?

    • Are there risks? Complications?

    • What if I don't have the operation?

    • Should I get a second opinion?

    • How many times has my surgeon done this procedure successfully?

    • Hospital or out-patient?

    • Anesthesia?

    • What's recovery look like? 

    • What are the costs, and who pays for what?


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