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Do Informed Patients Have Safer Surgeries?

June 26, 2020

Some of us, when faced with a tough situation like surgery, put our faith in our healthcare providers, trust everything will work out, and hope for the best.

Others do all those things… but also need to have answers to all their concerns.

That first group will believe the surgeon knows what he or she is doing and will try not to worry. However, before surgery, the second group of patients will do research to make the most informed decisions they can. This includes reviewing patient opinions and ratings of doctors, getting a second opinion, checking board certifications and licenses, researching articles on the type of procedure, and researching outcomes and prognosis. Before going ahead with surgery, these diligent, fact-finding patients look into how the actual procedure is typically performed, review the surgeon’s qualifications, making certain he or she is board certified, and then make a list of thoughtful questions about the procedure, outcomes, and their short-term and long-term prognosis.

Study Shows Doctors Need to do a Better Job with Patient Questions

A 2017 study stressed the importance of doctors educating patients about medical procedures, helping bring about better results and greater patient satisfaction. The study found physicians aren’t doing as well with this as they could. The study published in JAMA Surgery conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Surgery found that two-thirds of patients considering orthopedic surgery weren’t well-informed. This resulted in unwanted treatments and poorer outcomes.

The study looked at the results of doctors and their patients failing to collaborate on treatment decisions. The University of Wisconsin researchers asked more than 500 orthopedic patients to complete a survey about their preferred treatment options and to take a test to assess their understanding of their condition and available treatments. They then gave them a survey six months later to assess outcomes and quality of life. The researchers found that just 36% of patients met the criteria for an informed patient-centered decision.

The results showed that informed patients were decidedly more inclined to respond that they were extremely satisfied with their treatment. Those patients who were informed and received their preferred treatment also were more likely to do better, but it wasn’t apparent why patients who actively participated in treatment decisions had better outcomes. The researchers think that these patients may have had more realistic expectations or were more motivated to follow through with their treatment and recovery plans.

What Questions Should I Ask Before My Surgery?

The researchers and surgeons at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Surgery created a list of questions for patients to ask. However, the three key questions patients needed to have answered were the following:

  • “Should I have surgery?”
  • “What should I expect if everything goes well?”
  • “What happens if things go wrong?”

When the researchers created a draft question list, they tested it with 42 clinic patients in  Madison. These pilot patients said that having the list gave them “questions (they) would never have thought to ask.” One surgeon said that some patients might not even know that they have the right to ask those questions. Asking questions and getting answers can be a very positive and empowering experience. “To improve patient engagement in surgical decision making, we need to bridge the gap between patients’ need to make the consequences of surgery relevant to their lives and the surgeon’s goal of setting realistic expectations,” the research team wrote.

Here are some of the questions patients should feel comfortable asking a surgeon before a procedure:

  • Why do I need this procedure?
  • What are the risks of the surgery?
  • Are there any alternative treatments?
  • What is my prognosis if I don’t have the surgery?
  • What are the benefits of my surgery, and how long can I expect them to last?
  • How will the operation be performed?
  • What can I expect in recovery and recuperation?
  • How is pain treated after the operation?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • How long will I be hospitalized?
  • When can I return to work?
  • Will I need care at home after the surgery?
  • What’s the surgeon’s experience in this procedure?
  • What type of anesthesia will I have?
  • What does it costs, and is it covered by insurance?
  • How should I physically and mentally prepare for the surgery?


You should be certain and feel good that you’re making the right decision for your specific health situation.

Remember, you have a right to have all your questions answered by your surgeon. This will likely make you feel much more comfortable when you have the facts. Knowing all you can about a procedure makes for a better outcome, can avoid unneeded procedures, and can reduce bad outcomes.

Contact us!

For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Michigan, contact Buchanan Firm. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or an error in surgery.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Southfield, Mt. Pleasant, Kalamazoo, Jackson, and Flint, and rural towns such as Cadillac, Charlevoix, South Haven, Portage, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

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