3 Questions you need to ask before you have surgery

Surgery can be a scary prospect for anyone that is about to go under the knife, whether it is a minor procedure or a life-saving one.

I know how scared I was when I recently had a minor surgery. No matter how much my family reassured me that everything will be fine the fear was still there.

It’s only natural to be afraid before any invasive procedure. And that’s probably because subconsciously we know we are putting our lives in the hands of another person.

Recently, I came across a very insightful article in which a leading medical expert, Dr. John Birkmeyer, a surgeon and chief academic officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre in New Hampshire, offers three key questions everyone should ask before they go in for surgery.

1. How many times has the surgeon done that specific procedure in a year? Dr. Birkmeyer says that for heart bypass surgery he would want a doctor who has done at least 100 surgeries a year. For a hip or knee replacement, at least 50 a year.

2. What is the hospital’s and doctor’s surgical infection rate? In many cases, it’s a preventable post-surgery infection that threatens patients’ lives. However, hospital infections happen frequently and it’s important that you know what these infection rates are before you agree to having your surgery performed at any particular hospital.

3. How experienced is your surgeon with the specific approach or device he plans to use for the surgery? A doctor who is experienced in big-incision stomach surgery for instance may still be a newbie when it comes to laparoscopic, or keyhole surgeries.

If you are in the position to have a choice of hospitals where you can get your surgery there, you also need to do important leg work before you make your choice.

Sometimes the hospitals given as part of your choice (or the one are being sent to) are inexperienced in the type of surgery they are about to get. This is especially true of so-called ‘training hospitals’ where doctors and surgeons are training to perfect their skills.

Of course, doctors and surgeons need to train somewhere, but as you’ve seen in the three questions above, you need to know who your surgeon is and what his or her level of experience is. If it is a training surgeon then you need some reassurance that you will be in safe hands and that if something goes wrong a senior surgeon will be right there to step in.

Asking just a few questions can make the daunting experience of having surgery and recovery afterwards a lot less traumatic. By asking the right questions before your surgery, you will empower yourself to feel safer and reassured before you go under the knife.

To a healthier life,

Thomas Smith