Chevron left
View all articles

Top Questions to Ask Before Surgery for Maximum Peace of Mind

Embarking on surgery demands clarity and informed decisions. Our guide empowers you with critical questions to ask, covering procedure understanding, surgeon credentials, and recovery expectations. It's your toolkit for a confident, well-prepared surgical journey.
Layer 5 2
By Steve Birnhak
Checkmark circle
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Mark Aranson
Updated: May 12, 2024
Patient discussing surgical procedure with healthcare provider
Patient discussing surgical procedure with healthcare provider

As you gear up for surgery, clarity is your best ally. From understanding your procedure to assessing surgeon credentials and managing recovery—smart questions lay the foundation for your surgical journey. Shed the anxiety; arm yourself with knowledge. Our straightforward guide walks you through vital questions to ask before surgery, equipping you to take charge of your health with confidence and peace of mind as you step into the operating room.

The first part of this article will cover the areas where it’s useful to have an understanding of your situation, and at the end, we’ve pulled together a list of questions that could help you navigate the process and make informed decisions.

Just remember, when it comes to your health, there are no silly questions to ask before surgery. Remember, the goal is not just to have your questions answered, but to understand the answers.

Key Takeaways

  • Patients should fully understand their surgical procedures, alternatives, and recovery expectations to make informed decisions about their health, including seeking second opinions for confirmation or exploring less invasive options.

  • Choosing the right surgeon involves verifying board certification, training, and experience with the specific surgery, as well as considering patient testimonials and surgeon’s success rates to ensure a high level of expertise and reliability.

  • It is important to consider the financial aspects of surgery by assessing costs, insurance coverage, and exploring financial assistance and payment plans, as well as the importance of follow-up care and rehabilitation for a successful recovery.

Understanding Your Surgical Procedure

The first step towards a successful surgery is understanding the procedure itself. Being well-informed about the surgery not only puts you at ease but also allows you to:

  • Participate actively in discussions about the best treatment options

  • Manage expectations

  • Prepare for the recovery process

  • Make better decisions about your health and treatment options

Armed with knowledge, you can make better decisions about your health and treatment options.

It is also essential to consider seeking a second opinion to ensure all surgical details are understood and all options have been considered.

Purpose of the Surgery

Understanding the purpose of your surgery is strongly encouraged as it helps you appreciate the need for the procedure. Surgeries serve various purposes, including:

  • Removing or repairing damaged tissues or organs

  • Eliminating blockages

  • Realigning structures

  • Transplantation to address various medical conditions

  • Aiding in the diagnosis process, like taking a biopsy to investigate a lump

Others, like bypass surgeries or the implantation of devices, are designed to improve bodily functions. And then, there are surgeries aimed at enhancing one’s physical appearance, addressing aesthetic concerns.

Surgical Techniques and Approaches

Before undergoing your surgical procedure at an accredited healthcare facility, it’s essential to be aware of the different techniques and approaches that might be used. The choice of technique can significantly impact the success rates of your surgery. Moreover, you can rest assured knowing that even if you’re undergoing surgery at a teaching hospital, there is strict supervision of residents to ensure a safe environment.

So, don’t shy away from asking your surgeon about the technique they plan to use and why they believe it’s the best approach for your particular situation.

Potential Outcomes and Success Rates

One important question to ask before surgery is about the potential outcomes and success rates. For instance, in the case of bariatric surgery, there is a significant body weight loss and higher remission rates of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome compared to non-surgical obesity treatments. Conversely, for conditions like sciatic pain from disc herniation, while early surgery can lead to faster pain relief compared to prolonged conservative treatment, there is no significant difference in pain relief observed after one to two years.

Remember, despite potential long-lasting effects, including the possibility of future surgeries or related medical conditions, undergoing elective surgery is often a big step towards a healthier life. Consult your local medical society for guidance and support in making this important decision.

Evaluating Your Surgeon's Expertise

Surgeon's credentials and experience evaluation

Choosing the right surgeon is as important as understanding the surgical procedure itself. You must ensure that your surgeon is board-certified in their specialty area, verify their credentials, and inquire about their level of experience with the specific procedure. Knowing how many times they have conducted the operation will help gauge their practical experience.

You should also know:

  • Who exactly will perform your surgical procedure

  • The surgeon’s affiliations with hospitals

  • A personal perspective from the surgeon on the proposed treatment can also be enlightening.

Board Certification and Training

Board certification is a significant indicator of a surgeon’s commitment to continuous learning and quality care. The American Board of Surgery certifies surgeons who meet high standards of education, training, and knowledge. Board certification, distinct from a medical license, emphasizes a higher standard of specialty expertise.

Surgeons must complete at least five years of residency training in an approved program to be eligible for board certification. Some surgeons go further and complete Some surgeons go further and complete ACGME-accredited fellowship training to achieve certification in subspecialties, enhancing their proficiency in that area. This additional training is often rigorous and highly specialized, focusing on areas such as pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, or plastic and reconstructive surgery. The fellowship period allows surgeons to gain extensive hands-on experience under the mentorship of seasoned experts, which is invaluable in refining their skills and deepening their understanding of complex surgical techniques. By pursuing these fellowships, surgeons demonstrate their dedication to providing the highest standard of care in their chosen specialty. fellowship training to achieve certification in subspecialties, enhancing their proficiency in that area.

Experience with the Specific Procedure

When evaluating a surgeon’s expertise, it’s important to understand their experience with the specific procedure you need. It’s not a guarantee that the operating surgeon will perform the entire procedure, which raises concerns for patients. Therefore, you should confirm who will be performing your surgery to ensure you are comfortable with the responsible surgeon and their level of participation.

The frequency with which a surgeon performs a specific procedure is a critical factor in determining the final outcome of surgery.

Patient Testimonials and Reviews

Patient testimonials and reviews offer valuable insights into a surgeon’s track record and patient satisfaction levels. Hospital websites, healthcare rating platforms, and social media sites often feature patient reviews that can be useful in evaluating a surgeon. However, it’s important to read patient reviews critically, considering factors like the date of the review, the specificity of feedback, and the overall number of reviews.

A well-rounded view should be formed by considering a variety of testimonials, as they can reflect different patient experiences and aspects of the surgeon’s practice.

Exploring Alternatives to Surgery

Before you settle on surgery, it’s essential to explore alternatives. Non-surgical alternatives can offer a safer and simpler long-term solution than surgery, which is sometimes seen as a quick fix. Non-surgical treatments often allow for a quicker recovery period and do not require the use of anesthesia, offering an alternative to the complexity of traditional surgery. Therefore, you should always ask your healthcare providers if non-surgical alternatives are available for your specific health issue.

During a second opinion appointment, it's important to discuss potential alternative treatments and take detailed notes on the doctor’s conclusions and treatment similarities with other cases.

Conservative Treatments

Conservative treatments aim to avoid invasive measures like surgery and focus on preserving function. They can include medication management or physical therapy to address medical conditions without invasive procedures.

For instance, for obesity, conservative treatments may include behavioral therapy, dietary modifications, increased physical activity, and pharmacotherapies.

Minimally Invasive Procedures

Minimally invasive procedure
Minimally invasive procedure

Minimally invasive procedures are becoming more popular and are often performed with less downtime, sometimes allowing for an outpatient basis at ambulatory surgical centers. These procedures usually involve less recovery time and present fewer risks than traditional surgical methods.

In obesity treatment, procedures like laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding are demonstrative of minimally invasive techniques leading to significant weight loss.

Risks and Benefits Comparison

Before deciding on surgery or an alternative, it’s important to compare the risks and benefits. Surgical procedures are usually associated with higher risks and side effects compared to non-surgical treatments. For instance, bariatric surgery offers patients significant quality of life improvements and reduction in medication for obesity-related conditions, yet poses risks such as anemia and potential reoperations.

On the other hand, active exercises can be as effective as surgery in reducing pain for shoulder impingement, highlighting the fact that non-surgical options could offer similar benefits with fewer risks.

Preparing for Recovery and Post-Operative Care

Once you’ve decided on surgery, it’s time to prepare for recovery and post-operative care. It’s essential to be aware of the following:

  • The expected recovery timeline

  • Hospitalization duration

  • Limitations during recovery

  • Special supplies needed

  • The time it will take to resume work and daily activities

  • Post-operative pain management strategies

Lastly, your home recovery environment may need to be equipped with special gear, and you may require assistance from a healthcare professional or help from friends and family with rides, housework, and pet care. In some cases, you might need to seek professional services to ensure a smooth recovery process.

Recovery Timeline and Expectations

Knowing the expected recovery timeline and limitations is crucial to plan for post-surgery life. Surgery recovery times vary greatly depending on the procedure, with minor surgeries like vasectomies taking as little as 2-7 days to recover, in contrast to major operations which may require a longer period.

For major surgeries, such as open-heart surgery, the recovery process may encompass initial hospital recovery for a few days and an extended recovery of 6-8 months before resuming normal activities.

Pain Management Strategies

Patient discussing pain management with healthcare provider
Patient discussing pain management with healthcare provider

Effective pain management is important to ensure comfort and safety during recovery. Pain management after surgery can encompass various techniques including medications, physical therapy, and alternative methods. Different types of pain management techniques, such as patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) and epidural analgesia, can be tailored to individual patient needs.

Non-medication pain relief strategies, including guided imagery, relaxation methods, and heat or cold therapy, can effectively complement pharmacological approaches.

Rehabilitation and Follow-Up Care

Rehabilitation and follow-up care are essential for a successful recovery. Rehabilitation after surgery often includes:

  • Physical therapy aimed at restoring mobility and strength

  • Assistance from social workers for equipment arrangement

  • Organizing necessary rehabilitation services

Follow-up appointments are a critical aspect of rehabilitation, providing the opportunity to monitor patient progress and promptly address any complications that may arise.

Assessing Surgery Costs and Insurance Coverage

An important aspect of preparing for surgery is assessing surgery costs and insurance coverage. Before undergoing surgery, patients should inquire about the level of coverage from their health insurance company and determine if their surgeon is in-network to ensure coverage with their insurance or health plan.

It’s necessary to be aware of the anticipated costs present in the surgery, including the portion that you will be responsible for, beforehand.

Surgery Fees and Associated Expenses

Understanding surgery fees and associated expenses
Understanding surgery fees and associated expenses

Being aware of surgery fees, including surgery hospital fees and ambulatory surgical center fees, can help you avoid unexpected costs. Surgery costs can vary widely between hospitals, even those in close proximity, with price differences that may exceed a 300% gap for similar care.

The cost of surgery can be influenced by factors such as the duration of the operation, with longer surgeries, particularly those beyond 180 minutes requiring general anesthesia, incurring higher costs.

Insurance Coverage and In-Network Providers

Understanding your insurance coverage and in-network providers is highly recommended to ensure proper coverage for your surgery. Out-of-pocket expenses refer to the amount that patients are required to pay for medical services, which is not covered by their health insurance. Therefore, you should consult with your doctor, hospital, or medical facility prior to surgery to understand the potential out-of-pocket costs, even when insured.

Financial Assistance and Payment Plans

Surgery can be expensive, but there may be financial assistance and payment plan options available to make it more affordable. Many hospitals offer assistance programs for patients based on income levels. To access these programs, patients typically need to provide proof of income, residency, and insurance status.

Second Opinions and Additional Consultations

It’s a great idea for patients to seek second opinions and consult with various healthcare professionals, including medical consultants, prior to undergoing surgery. This not only helps confirm the necessity of surgery but also allows you to explore alternative treatments.

Reasons for Seeking a Second Opinion

There are several reasons why you might want to seek a second opinion. It can confirm the necessity of surgery and offer reassurance regarding the proposed surgical plan. When the initial recommending surgeon does not specialize in the surgery needed, a second opinion can be valuable.

A second opinion can also provide alternative treatments that may be less invasive or more aligned with your preferences. When confronted with conflicting opinions, obtaining a third opinion may help make a better-informed surgical decision.

How to Obtain a Second Opinion

Obtaining a second opinion can be a straightforward process. To prepare for a second opinion appointment, follow these steps:

  1. Compile your medical history, including test results and notes from any previous treatments.

  2. Schedule a consultation with another physician for a second opinion.

  3. Bring along any necessary medical scans, records, or x-rays required for review.

Evaluating Multiple Perspectives

When obtaining second opinions, it’s important to consider the opinions of various qualified healthcare providers, including your primary healthcare provider, when determining your treatment plan. When healthcare providers present different recommendations, carefully analyze where these opinions align or differ to inform your decision. Visiting your primary healthcare provider’s office for a face-to-face consultation can also be beneficial in this process, as it allows you to better understand the healthcare provider’s responses.


In conclusion, preparing for surgery is not an easy task, but asking the right questions can considerably ease the process. From understanding the surgical procedure to evaluating your surgeon’s expertise, exploring alternatives to surgery, preparing for recovery, assessing surgery costs, and seeking second opinions, the journey may be overwhelming but is nevertheless critical for a successful surgical outcome.

Obviously, there's a lot to understand when going through the surgical process. It can be overwhelming. Ready Set Recover was designed to help people feel more in control with a framework of action, inspiration and education to guide you step-by-step.

Questions to Ask About Surgical Options and Techniques

  1. What are the different surgical options available for my condition?

  2. Why is this particular technique recommended for me?

  3. What type of anesthesia will be used and why?

  4. What is the process of administering anesthesia?

Questions to Ask About Non-Surgical Treatment Options

  1. What non-surgical treatment options are available for my condition?

  2. How effective are these options compared to surgery?

  3. What are the benefits and risks of these options?

  4. How can these options improve my condition?

Questions to Ask About Risks and Benefits

  1. What are the potential side effects and risks of this surgery?

  2. How common are these risks and complications?

  3. What are the potential benefits of the surgery and how likely are they to occur?

  4. What will the surgery improve in terms of my health, mobility, or quality of life?

Questions to Ask About Your Surgeon's Expertise

  1. How many times have you performed this specific procedure?

  2. What is your success rate for this procedure?

  3. What is your complication rate?

Questions to Ask About Board Certification and Credentials

  1. What board certifications do you hold?

  2. How can I verify your board certification?

  3. What does your board certification mean for my surgery?

  4. How often do you participate in continuing education?

Questions to Ask About Pre-Surgery Tests and Consultations

  1. What pre-surgery tests will I need to undergo?

  2. What is the purpose of these pre-surgery tests?

  3. How should I prepare for these tests?

  4. When will the consultations take place?

  5. What can I expect during these consultations?

  6. What should I bring to these consultations?

Questions to Ask About Hospital Stay and Discharge

  1. How long will I need to stay in the hospital after the surgery?

  2. What will the discharge process involve?

  3. What post-surgery expectations should I be aware of for the initial days?

  4. What should I expect in the weeks and months following the surgery?

Questions to Ask About Home Care and Assistance

  1. What kind of care will I need at home after the surgery?

  2. Who can assist me with this care?

  3. What resources or services are available to help me manage at home?

  4. How long will I need this level of care and assistance?

Questions to Ask About Physical Therapy and Follow-Up Appointments

  1. What is the purpose of physical therapy and how can it aid in my recovery?

  2. How often will I need to attend physical therapy sessions?

  3. What can I expect during follow-up appointments?

  4. How will these appointments help in assessing my recovery progress?

Questions to Ask When Seeking a Second Opinion

  1. How can I seek a second opinion?

  2. What should I ask the second surgeon?

  3. What should I do if the second opinion differs from the first?

  4. How can a second opinion help in my decision-making process?

Questions to Ask About Insurance Coverage

  1. Are all of the doctors and hospitals/medical facilities in-network for my procedure?

  2. What aspects of the surgery does my insurance cover?

  3. Are there any restrictions or exclusions in my coverage that I should be aware of?

  4. How much will I have to pay out-of-pocket for this surgery?

  5. Are payment plans or financial assistance options available?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the don'ts before surgery?

Before surgery, it's important to avoid smoking, chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol. Additionally, refrain from wearing makeup, nail polish, deodorant, perfume, scented lotion, eating food, chewing gum, or having any type of candy after midnight prior to the procedure.

Why is it important to understand the surgical procedure?

It's important to understand the surgical procedure because it helps manage expectations, prepares you for the recovery process, and allows you to participate actively in discussions about the best treatment options. This can help put you at ease and feel more in control of your healthcare decisions.

What are some alternatives to surgery?

Discuss with your doctor the options for conservative treatments like medication management and physical therapy as well as minimally invasive procedures as alternatives to surgery for your condition. These options can offer effective solutions with less downtime and potential for outpatient care.

Why is it important to evaluate a surgeon's expertise?

It's important to evaluate a surgeon's expertise to ensure they are board-certified, have relevant experience, and receive positive patient reviews, since this can greatly impact the success of the surgery.

What should I know about surgery costs and insurance coverage?

You should inquire with your insurance company to understand your coverage and ensure your surgeon, hospital and everyone involved in your care is in-network. Additionally, it's important to be aware of the total surgery costs and your financial responsibility beforehand.

Gray 4 curve bg
Transform Your Surgical Journey with Ready Set Recover
You'll benefit from:
Check mark icn
Actionable steps, inspiration, and information on topics applicable to any surgery.
Check mark icn
Focused meditations, sleep and exercise tracking, and monitoring of physical and emotional well-being.
Check mark icn
Assistance and motivation from your team of surgery supporters.
Ready Set Recover is a physician vetted online wellness platform empowering you to prepare for and recover from surgery so you get better, faster and with less stress.
It's healing, reimagined.
Try 1 Week Free
No Commitment. No Credit Card.
Hero section illustration 1