Research suggests that over the years, patients have become better informed about medical issues. As a result, they increasingly use that information to help them make important healthcare decisions. One such decision is the choice of a surgeon and hospital when faced with the prospect of major surgery. Here’s some information that will help you make these important decisions.
Whether your surgeon comes recommended by your primary care physician or you choose to select one on your own, don't take your surgeon's qualifications for granted. Here are some credentials to look for:
Research shows that some hospitals simply do a better job than others. So how can you find the best hospital for the care you need? Look for the following:
Be sure to communicate with your doctor, especially if you are not sure about the procedure or why you need it. If you do not know what to ask at the time, write your questions down and ask someone to go with you to your next appointment. Communication via email may be an option under certain conditions. Doctor's offices will protect your confidential medical information, which can easily be accessed by others reading emails. It is important for you and your doctor to discuss what they are willing to answer or if they are open to email communication. You may be able to get some general questions answered, but for other types of information, you will need to make an appointment.
Getting a second opinion is a good way to make sure that surgery is the best choice for you. Other considerations include the type of surgery and the timing. Many people are uneasy about seeking another opinion. However, getting a second opinion is a common medical practice encouraged by most doctors. Furthermore, Medicare and many private health insurance companies will help pay for a second opinion because it is also in their best interest to avoid unnecessary surgery. Most Medicaid programs also pay for a second opinion.
Before having surgery, you'll be asked to provide official written consent. It's important to discuss all of your concerns about your condition and the surgery with your surgeon before you sign this form. In most cases, your surgeon will volunteer a great deal of information, but don't hesitate to ask any questions you still have. Your doctor should be willing to take whatever time is necessary to make sure that you are fully informed.
Before your surgery, ask about your surgeon's fees. Many surgeons volunteer this information; if yours doesn't, don't hesitate to ask. You can find out about hospital rates from the hospital business office. In addition to surgeons' fees and the costs of hospitalization, you will also be billed for the professional services of others involved in your care, such as the anesthesiologist and medical consultants.
You will probably want to check your health insurance plan to see what portion of these costs it covers. If your insurance plan will not pay all of the anticipated costs and you cannot afford the difference, discuss this situation frankly with your surgeon.
The most important criteria for choosing your surgeon is your ability to trust the doctor. When you meet with your surgeon, speak with and listen carefully to plans and explanations. You need to feel comfortable with what your surgeon says, how it is said, and how relaxed and confident you feel with the level of care.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
American College of Surgeons
Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
Birkmeyer J, Stukel T, Siewers AE, et al. Surgeon volume and operative mortality in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2003;349:2117-2127.
Chen J, Radford MJ, Wang Y, et al. Do "America's Best Hospitals" perform better for acute myocardial infarction? N Engl J Med. 1999;340:286-292.
Clancy CM. Do your homework before you choose a hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/061708.html. Published June 17, 2008. Accessed June 12, 2014.
Considering surgery? National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/considering-surgery. Updated March 18, 2014. Accessed June 12, 2014.
Krumholz HM, Rathore SS, Chen J, et al. Evaluation of a consumer-oriented internet healthcare report card: the risk of quality ratings based on mortality data. JAMA. 2002 Mar 13; 287:1277-1287.
Nugent WC. In health care, geography is destiny [editorial]. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2000;120(5).
Patient safety. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://www.facs.org/public_info/operation/who.html. Updated December 2013. Accessed June 14, 2014.
Public information from the American College of Surgeons. American College of Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.facs.org/public_info/operation/who.html. Updated June 4, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2014.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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