What questions should you ask your surgeon?

As a patient, you should have a lot of information before you decide on a surgery—and before you decide on a surgeon. Patients are often bashful about asking some fairly blunt questions. Here are a few questions that I do not consider rude, blunt, or inappropriate for you to ask of me. Ask away!

  • How many surgeries like this have you performed?
  • Will you be performing the surgery?
  • Will other physicians or non-physicians perform some of the surgery for you?
  • After my surgery, will you provide the follow-up care or will a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or other person working with you provide the follow-up care?
  • What are common complications of this type of surgery?
  • How often do you have those complications? Do you have accurate numbers about your complications or is your answer an estimate?
  • Is your overall complication rate higher, lower, or about the same as the complication rate for this surgery that is published in medical journals?
  • Have you ever had a patient die from this surgery?
  • Have you ever caused a nerve or blood vessel injury from this surgery?
  • If I have a problem after surgery who will take care of it?
  • How much will this operation cost?
  • Will I receive a bill for any providers other than you?
  • Have you ever had your privileges revoked or limited? (This, of course, is a delicate question to ask. I imagine that many patients aren’t bold enough to ask it. I can tell you that in my case, the answer is no, I’ve never had my privileges revoked or rescinded.)

I can also give you advice about some tools that may help you find an answer without having to ask: the South Carolina State Board of Medical Examiners does an excellent job of policing surgeons. The information is searchable and in the public domain. One can type in their surgeon’s name and determine if the board has ever taken action against that practitioner. The federal government has a database that records practitioners that have lost or settled malpractice cases. In our state, I believe these two sources probably provide the most reliable unbiased information about the professional history of your surgeon.