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Questions to ask before surgery

4-minute read

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.

Do I really need this surgery?

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?

What happens if I don’t do anything?

Is your condition likely to get better or worse if you don’t have the surgery?

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?

If you have private health insurance, check how much of the surgeon’s fees, anaesthetist’s fees and hospital fees will be covered. Some policies have restrictions for some procedures and you may have some out-of-pocket costs.

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 surgeon what experience they have doing this surgery. If it is the first time they have done this surgery, 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.

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.

What will recovery be like

There is a recovery period after all surgery. This can range from a few days to several months, depending on your age, condition, health and the type of surgery. It will be important to follow your surgeon’s advice carefully. So you can prepare, you could ask your surgeon:

  • How long will it take to fully recover from surgery?
  • What will the rehabilitation involve?
  • How should I plan for rehabilitation?
  • How should I look after myself at home?

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

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Last reviewed: September 2020


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