Important Questions to Ask Before You Have Surgery

There are many important questions that one should ask before having surgery. Some questions should be directed to a surgeon while others require a call to an insurance company (if you have one), friends, and loved ones. This list may help you find a qualified surgeon; prevent you from having surgery unnecessarily; and help make your recovery flow as smoothly as possible.

While these questions are not appropriate for every surgery, you can use them to create a personalized list of questions that you should ask your own surgeon, better enabling you to determine if surgery is right for you and how best to prepare for the procedure.


About Your Procedure

Surgical utensils

Image Source / Getty Images

  • Is this procedure necessary? What will happen if you say no to having surgery?
  • What are the alternatives to this procedure?
  • In what ways will life be different after this surgical procedure?
  • What is the proper name of the procedure?
  • What are the risks of the surgery?
  • What are the risks of anesthesia?
  • Are the risks for you greater than other patients for any reason?
  • What demographic of patients does the medical team have experience operating on?
  • What type of anesthesia will you be given?
  • Is this procedure a cure?
  • How long will the benefits of the procedure last?
  • Will this be an inpatient or outpatient procedure?
  • What type of incision will be used? Will it be an open procedure or a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) procedure?
  • What medications should be taken the morning of surgery?
  • When should you stop eating prior to the procedure?

Questions About the Surgeon’s Credentials

  • Is the doctor board-certified in a surgical specialty?
  • How often does the doctor perform this procedure?
  • If the doctor performing this procedure needed this surgery, who would be their surgeon?

About Recovery

There are other questions one should ask a surgeon in addition to questioning the benefits and risks of the surgery. A patient should also ask additional questions regarding recovery. Determining the amount of time one will be away from work and activities before undergoing surgery will help them better plan for the financial issues and work issues during the recovery phase of surgery.

  • What kind of scarring can you expect?
  • Are there any special instructions that will help speed recovery?
  • What type of incision care will you be expected to do after surgery?
  • Under what circumstances would your outpatient procedure require being admitted to the hospital overnight?
  • Will you need to arrange for help or home health services during recovery?
  • What type of follow-up care will you require?
  • Will you need physical therapy regularly after surgery?
  • Will you be able to drive yourself home after the procedure?
  • How will your pain be managed after surgery?
  • How will your diabetes be managed during and after your procedure?
  • What prescriptions will you need to take in the time following surgery?
  • How long will you require prescription medication after surgery?
  • Can you have your prescriptions filled prior to surgery so they are available when you return home?
  • How long will you expect to be in the hospital?
  • What is a normal recovery like after this procedure?
  • What limitations will there be on your activity after surgery?
  • When will you be able to return to work?
  • When will you be able to return to my normal activities including exercise?
  • When will you be able to eat and drink after surgery?

Questions About Surgery Costs

  • How much will the procedure cost?
  • Does the cost of the procedure include operating room time, anesthesia, and testing?
  • Is a payment plan available or a discount if you’re self-paying for surgery?

Questions to Ask Your Insurance Company

Before having a surgical procedure it is helpful to talk to the insurance company or companies to determine the level of coverage and any expenses that you will personally be responsible for paying. In addition, if you have disability coverage through your employer or an independent insurance company, you may be eligible for benefits while you are having surgery and during recovery.

  • How much will the procedure cost you after insurance pays its portion?
  • For major procedures: What is the maximum on your policy and will this procedure meet that threshold?
  • What type of coverage do you have if you need rehabilitation or home health care after surgery?
  • Will any special equipment you need after surgery, such as oxygen, a hospital bed or assistive devices be covered?
  • Do you have disability insurance?
  • How much is your weekly/monthly disability benefit?
  • If your recovery takes longer than expected when will your disability coverage start?
  • How much of the prescription costs after surgery will you be expected to pay each month?
  • Are there any upcoming policy changes that may impact my coverage?

Questions to Ask Your Employer

If surgery will require you to take time away from work, there are important questions that your human resources department may be able to help answer. These questions will help you determine your options for time away from work, your insurance coverage through your employer and your return to work.

  • How much sick time do you have available for your surgery and recovery?
  • Do you have disability coverage if your recovery takes longer than expected? When will benefits end if you are unable to return to work?
  • Can you use sick/vacation time to make up the difference between your normal pay and what you will receive as a disability payment?
  • Can you use vacation time as well as sick time for surgery and recovery?
  • Will your job be secure if your recovery lasts longer than expected?
  • Will your work be able to make the necessary accommodations (wheelchair, crutches, cane, limited work hours) after surgery?
  • What is the balance in your prepaid healthcare account?

Questions for Hospital Staff and Social Workers

If you are having your procedure done in a hospital, the social work staff and other key staff members may be of great assistance to you. Social workers can help you determine if you are eligible for government benefits or other programs to help pay for your surgery. They may also help you arrange for any sort of equipment or physical therapy/rehabilitation you may need once you are discharged.

  • Do you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid?
  • Does your service as a veteran entitle you to any healthcare benefits?
  • Do you qualify for any financial assistance programs provided by the hospital?
  • If you’re self-paying can you pay the insurance rate?
  • If you’re self-paying is there a discount plan available or an installment program?
  • If you require a stay at a rehabilitation facility after your procedure will someone be able to assist with those arrangements?
  • Are there limitations on visitors or the time of visits?
  • If you require medical equipment, such as oxygen or assistive devices after surgery, will someone be able to help with those arrangements?
  • Is there a fee for parking if you or your family park at the hospital? Is that fee waived for patients or is a discount available?

Questions to Ask Friends and Family

If undergoing surgery, you may need to rely on friends and family for a bit more help than you normally would. This list will help you remember the different things that you may need help with, including rides, housework that requires more lifting than you are permitted and pet care.

  • Will someone be available to take you to the hospital for surgery?
  • Will someone be available to pick you up and take you home from the hospital?
  • Will someone be available to watch the children in your care while you’re having surgery/hospitalized?
  • If you need help with childcare/lifting/personal care/light housework/walking your pets will someone be available?
  • If you need assistance getting to doctor’s appointments/physical therapy will someone be available?
  • While you’re in the hospital recovering from surgery, can someone care for your pets?
  • Will someone be visiting during your hospital stay?

If You’re Having Plastic Surgery

When having plastic surgery it is extremely important to ask appropriate questions of the surgeon. In many cases, patients who have a poor outcome after the procedure find out later that the doctor had no training in plastic surgery.

To prevent poor outcomes, it is especially important to make sure the surgeon you choose has the appropriate credentials and experience to perform the procedure. It is also helpful if the surgeon performs the procedure frequently, as that has been shown to contribute to the final outcome.

  • Why is this procedure the best one for you, rather than a similar one?
  • Is the doctor board-certified in plastic surgery?
  • How frequently does your doctor perform this procedure?
  • Does the doctor have any patients who are surgeons?
  • Does the doctor have before and after photos of their work?
  • If the doctor can’t perform your surgery, who would they recommend?
  • Is the doctor involved in teaching/education of residents or credentialed plastic surgeons?
  • What type of anesthesia will be used?
  • How can you lower your risk of scarring? What can the doctor do to lower your risk of scarring?
  • Will you be able to go home once you wake from surgery?
  • Will your surgery be performed in a surgery clinic or a hospital?
  • How long will the benefits of surgery last? Are the results permanent?
  • How long can you expect to be away from work/normal activity?
  • Will you have visible swelling or bruising that may prevent you from returning to work?
  • Can this procedure be repeated or reversed?
  • How much will the procedure cost in total, including anesthesia, lab tests, and any other costs?
  • What are the most common complications of this surgery?
  • How can you expect your appearance to be improved by the procedure?
  • What is a realistic expectation regarding the outcome of the surgery?
  • What additional costs can you expect if you have to remain in the hospital overnight?
  • Is there a payment plan or financing available?

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.