Get the Basic Facts

Having Surgery? What You Need to Know

Why Do I Need an Operation?

There are many reasons to have surgery. Some operations can relieve or prevent pain. Others can reduce a symptom of a problem or improve some body function. Some surgeries are done to find a problem. Surgery can also save your life. Your doctor will tell you the purpose of the procedure.

Make sure you understand how the proposed operation will help fix your medical problem. For example, if something is going to be repaired or removed, find out why it needs to be done.

What Operation Are You Recommending?

Ask your surgeon to explain the surgery and how it is done. Your surgeon can draw a picture or a diagram and explain the steps in the surgery.

Is there more than one way of doing the operation? One way may require more extensive surgery than another. Some operations that once needed large incisions (cuts in the body) can now be done using much smaller incisions (for example, laparoscopic surgery).

Some surgeries require that you stay in the hospital for 1 or more days. Others let you come in and go home on the same day. Ask why your surgeon wants to do the operation one way over another.

Laparoscopic Surgery

Some surgeries that used to need a large incision can now be done using a few small cuts. Instead of a large scar, you will have only a few small scars. Usually, you will recover from this type of surgery more quickly. These incisions let doctors insert a thin tube with a camera (a laparoscope) into the body to help them see. Then they use small tools to do the surgery. This type of surgery is called laparoscopic surgery. Removing the gallbladder, for example, is now mostly done with this type of surgery.

Are There Alternatives To Surgery?

Sometimes, surgery is not the only answer to a medical problem. Medicines or treatments other than surgery, such as a change in diet or special exercises, might help you just as well—or more. Ask your surgeon or primary care doctor about the benefits and risks of these other choices. You need to know as much as possible about these benefits and risks to make the best decision.

One alternative to surgery may be watchful waiting. During a watchful wait, your doctor and you check to see if your problem gets better or worse over time. If it gets worse, you may need surgery right away. If it gets better, you may be able to wait to have surgery or not have it at all.

How Much Will the Operation Cost?

Even if you have health insurance, there may be some costs for you to pay. This may depend on your choice of surgeon or hospital. Ask what your surgeon's fee is and what it covers. Surgical fees often also include some visits after the operation. You also will get a bill from the hospital for your care and from the other doctors who gave you care during your surgery.

Before you have the operation, call your insurance company. They can tell you how much of the costs your insurance will pay and what share you will have to pay. If you are covered by Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to find out your share of surgery costs.

Current as of October 2012
Internet Citation: Get the Basic Facts: Having Surgery? What You Need to Know. October 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.