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Questions to ask before surgery

Whether or not to have surgery is a big decision. No matter how much advice you get, ultimately the decision is yours. Asking your doctor plenty of questions can help guide you towards making the right decision.

If I have surgery, how will it help me?

It's a good idea to know exactly how the surgery might help you. For example, if it's surgery on your leg, you could ask your GP and your surgeon:

  • Will the surgery make your leg feel less painful?
  • Will the surgery make walking easier?

Be clear about what the benefits might be. Check how long the benefits should last. For many types of surgery, they should last a lifetime. For other types the benefits might be short-lived. Ask what the chances of success are. You could ask your surgeon:

  • Of 100 people who have had this surgery, how many felt better? In what way?

What are the risks of surgery?

All surgery has risks. There are risks that are associated with the anaesthetic you will have. There are also the general risks of any surgery, such as bleeding from the wound, while each type of surgery also has its own risks. You could ask your surgeon:

  • What could go wrong?
  • If you did this operation on 100 people, how many would have something go wrong? And what would it mean to those people?

Do you have experience doing this surgery?

All surgeons have to do an operation for the first time. If you're the first, you should know that. It is a good idea to ask your surgeon:

  • How many times have you done this particular operation?
  • What are the results of your surgery?

All surgeons are required to keep records of all the operations they've performed and whether their patients improved or not. They should be happy to share this with you.

Are there simpler, safer options?

Some conditions get better by themselves. Some conditions improve with alternatives such as exercise, physiotherapy, dietary changes or medicines. You could ask your GP and your surgeon:

  • What are the alternatives to surgery?
  • What might happen if I do nothing?

What are the costs?

Surgery and the time spent recovering from it costs money. You could ask your surgeon:

  • How much will you pay overall – to the surgeon, to the anaesthetist, to the hospital?
  • If your surgery is covered by Medicare, how much will Medicare pay? What will your out-of-pocket cost be?
  • What will it cost you in time, effort and stress?
  • How long will you take to recover?
  • How long before you're able to get back to your normal life?

Choosing your surgeon

It can be difficult to choose a surgeon. You want to find a person who has all the technical skills you need and who also listens well and talks about your concerns. You could ask your GP:

  • Who is the best surgeon for me for this particular operation? And why?

Second opinion

You can also ask for a second opinion by asking your GP to refer you to another surgeon.

Question builder

A tool to help you create a question list for your doctor’s appointment. Go to the Question Builder, prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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