When you are dealing with health problems, there are times when surgery is your only option. For example, your appendix might rupture and need to be removed, you might need a coronary bypass to treat heart disease or you may need cataract surgery to improve your vision.
But in other cases, you might be considering surgery to treat something that’s bothering you but isn’t urgent. Elective surgery can treat conditions such as arthritis, gynecological problems, foot pain, obesity, some gastrointestinal conditions and more. In many of these cases, you may be evaluating other treatment options besides surgery.
So, how do you decide whether elective surgery is right for you? “The prospect of surgery can be daunting and scary. Remember that a good surgeon is on your side, and our goal is to help you understand your problem and find the best treatment,” said Khoi Dinh Le, MD, a general surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO. He shared a few tips that can help you decide whether elective surgery is right for you and how you can choose the best surgeon.
Ask your surgeon these questions
Your surgeon can provide a lot of information to help you make your decision. Here are some things to ask:
- What other alternatives or medical treatments might work? Should I try them first? Are they as effective as surgery? Will they last as long? How often do your other patients try them?
- What type of outcome can I expect?
- Are you sure I need this surgery?
- Are there other surgical options you don’t perform that I should consider?
- Would you perform this surgery with open, laparoscopic or robotic techniques? If there are options, what are the pros and cons?
- Are you comfortable performing this surgery?
- How many times do you perform this procedure in a month?
- Do you specialize in this type of surgery?
- What are the possible risks or complications?
- Will I notice any changes in my body or my ability to function after this surgery?
- How does the operation work? What kind of anesthesia will I need? How long will I be in the hospital? What’s the recovery process like?
- How quickly do I need to make a decision?
You can also discuss your treatment options with your primary care provider. But a surgeon who’s experienced in treating your condition might be your best resource.
Do your research, but understand the limitations
Most people turn to the internet when they have questions. You’ll find a lot of resources there, but make sure your information is coming from trusted sources like governmental sites, professional associations or respected medical centers. A lot of online information comes from sites that aren’t trustworthy.
Online groups and forums can be good resources for information about your surgery’s long-term effects and results. “But keep in mind that they can be skewed towards people who have had complications,” Dr. Le said. “It can be difficult to find support groups and forums where people speak about their positive experiences.”
You can also look at peer-reviewed medical literature, but research is usually written with an audience of surgeons or scientists in mind. So, it can be challenging to understand if you don’t have a medical background.
Connect with others who have had the same surgery
If you know someone personally who has had surgery to treat the same health problem and you feel comfortable talking about it, ask them about their experience. You can also post your questions on social media. “You may get biased answers, but hopefully, people will share both positive and negative experiences that can help you make the decision you feel most comfortable with,” Dr. Le said. You may also be able to join support groups for people who have your specific problem.
Decide which surgeon is right for you
You’ll find ratings and reviews online for many surgeons, and that can be a good starting point. “Many people leave negative reviews more often than positive reviews, so look at them with some scrutiny,” Dr. Le said. Some surgeons have a research interest in specific diseases, and generally, they have more experience with those types of surgeries.
Dr. Le said, “The best way to choose the right surgeon is to trust in your interaction with that surgeon in the office. Good surgeons are not just good technicians. They are also compassionate and empathetic, and this will be apparent in your first clinic visit. Do they take the time to listen to your symptoms and explain the disease and treatment options? Or do you feel like they want you in and out of the office as quickly as possible?”
Remember, the choice of a surgeon and the decision to go forward with surgery are yours to make. If you’d prefer to try other treatment options, you have that right. And if you feel like your surgeon hasn’t done a good job in explaining or educating, you can request a second and even third opinion.
The bottom line
If you’re considering surgery to treat a health condition, you’ll want to ask the right questions and gather all the necessary information to make your decision. A good surgeon can take you through your options, educate you on the pros and cons and help you evaluate other treatments. To connect with a surgeon who can help, reach out to Banner Health.
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