Surgery and the 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Doctor

The following is a guest post from PB, who is the primary author of Economically Humble, a blog for college students, graduate students and professors who are interested in saving money at home and on campus. Enjoy the article.

My partner, like most college students, graduate students and professors, uses her keyboard throughout the day. It came as no surprise, then, that an old wrist injury from her Semi-pro Volleyball days flared up. A surgery was needed.

As I sat in the waiting-room I ran over the questions to ask the doctor in the planning stages of the surgery. Some of the questions were obvious, but others came to mind only because I have colleagues that are health policy researchers.

I am listing 10 of the most critical questions below. By asking these ten questions you help make certain that your surgery is appropriate, effective, and necessary. Perhaps more importantly, you can put your mind at ease and concentrate on the healing part of the process without being worried at other aspects of an expensive surgery.

1. Is the surgery in or outpatient? This is a simple question but an important one. Once you know this question you can focus on costs and preparing your budget and home for post operation healing.

2. Is this surgery necessary and are there other options? What is the success rate of the surgery (both for the doctor and in general)? It’s amazing how surgeries are not always necessary and that there are other effective options. Ask  about these options and explore their benefits.

3. Are there possible side effects or unforeseen consequences as a result if the surgery now or in the years to come? We tend to think of surgery much like taking a car to a mechanic. Once the car is repaired, it runs. Bodies, however, are living machines, and when we change one section of the body, entire systems can change.

4. Can you explain or walk me though what will happen the day of the surgery, and tell me how long it will take (the surgery and the entire process from the time I walk in to the hospital to the time I walk out)? This is a great tip that puts patients at ease. Uncertainly makes humans nervous and if we know what to expect we will be more relaxed and at ease.

5. Has my insurance approved this surgery? Exactly how much will I have to pay out if pocket? (billing is a huge issue, so I’ll provide some specific tips in a later post, as well as reviews of a new website that may help you track your bills). Billing is a huge concern. The last thing we want is to walk in or out of surgery and realize we need to pay $1 or 100,000 more than expected. Once you know the cost of the surgery and what your insurance will cover, you can plan accordingly.

6. Is financial assistance available? Most hospitals have a community affairs office that may be able to provide financial assistance. Get to know this office regardless of your financial status and ask them what payment options or financial support are available. Sometimes you might be eligible for a discount on the surgery. If you are financially stable and strong, you may be eligible for a discount by negotiating the cost of the surgery.

7. What medications will I take, for how long, and how much will they cost? Will my insurance pay for medications? Are generic varieties available? Can you prescribe smaller prescriptions so that I do not buy 80 pain pills and only use 10? Doctors love to give pain meds… in huge quantities that are not necessary. Instead of a prescription of 80 pills, ask your doctor to fill one out for 20 or 40 and then refill when necessary.

8. When and how will follow-up occur? Who do I call if I have questions before my follow-up appointment? This again is for piece of mind. In prior surgeries I called for everything you can imagine, as was my right as a good patient.

9. What do I do if something goes wrong or I feel pain? Again, this puts the mind at ease. Some pain is expected, a lot of pain might even be expected. Ask you doctor this question and you will learn more about the surgery and healing process.

10. Where can I read the Patient Bill of Rights and Responsibilities? This is an excellent document that encourages you to speak up when you have questions. You have rights; use them.

I also suggest having a “surgery diary” where you write all of your questions, concerns and feelings. This is especially useful if you get nervous in a doctor’s office, a natural feeling and experience.

To learn more about health care and your rights, check out, a new and useful new patient education rights service offered as a result of the Patient Protective Affordable Care Act, as well as the Patient Advocate Organization (I have not used this group before but learned of them from health policy researchers.)

Post script – my partner recovered completely from her surgery.

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    • PB @ says

      Hi Miss T, Thank your or working in the health system. We need more supportive people (which I sense you are). I hope we can read some of your thoughts on the topic, too!

  1. Neville Sinclair says

    Surgery can test our nerves – even if we’ve been through it before and know what to expect. Even so, it is important to be fully informed about your procedure, as every surgery is unique.

  2. says

    I laughed when I saw your “Doctors like to give tons of pain pills”. That certainly is not true in my region. The feds are cracking down on doctors inappropriate prescribing of pain meds.
    I always give enough to last till their first post-op visit, which is usually one week. We reevaluate then.

    Always get your meds before surgery. Who wants to wait in line at the pharmacy when you’ve just had surgery? No one!

    Good article.

    • PB @ says

      Dr. Dean, it is so good to hear doctors are cracking down…. I was shocked when I saw the prescription and really wish we had picked up the meds before surgery. Instead, I dropped off my partner and ran out again in a rush. great tip!

  3. Julie @ Freedom 48 says

    That’s a great list. I’m always weary of finding out TOO much info beforehand though (like risks/side effects/complications), because I inevitably convince myself that it’ll be so much worse than it ends up being.
    I know it’s not good to be naive – but it’s far less stressful!

    • PB @ says

      Good point… we don’t want to make ourselves a nervous mess, but some info is good. I tend to like as much as possible (I’m kinda nerdy) while my partner wants to know “just enough” to be informed. finding the right balance is important.

  4. Kari@Small Budget Big Dreams says

    Great list. I think people tend to get intimidated when talking to doctors. It’s always a good idea to go with a list of questions and concerns. That way if you forget something, due to nerves, or pain, or both, you can refer back to your list. It’s also a good way to be efficient, which doctors usually appreciate.

  5. PB @ says

    Thanks for all of the comments. It weird how hard it is to talk to our doctors, but having a list really makes it easier. I

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