Making Surgery as Easy as Possible

From the National Institute on Aging

Have you been told by your doctor that you need surgery? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of older Americans have surgery each year.

Your primary care doctor may suggest a surgeon to you, and your state or local medical society can tell you about your surgeon’s training. Try to choose a surgeon who operates often on medical problems like yours.

Then talk with your surgeon about the operation. It may help to take a member of your family or a friend with you. Don’t hesitate to ask the surgeon any questions you might have. Your surgeon should be willing to answer your questions. If you don’t understand the answers, ask the surgeon to explain more clearly. Answers to the following questions will help you make an informed decision about your treatment:

What is the surgery? Do I need it now, or can I wait?

Can another treatment be tried instead of surgery?

How will the surgery affect my health and lifestyle?

What kind of anesthesia will be used? What are the side effects and risks of having anesthesia?

Will I be in pain? How long will the pain last?

When will I be able to go home after the surgery?

What will the recovery be like? How long will it take to feel better?

Will I need post-operative checkups?

What will happen if I don’t have the surgery?

Is there anything else I should know about this surgery?

Even after you’ve met with the surgeon, you can get a second opinion if you want. You can either visit another surgeon yourself, or ask for your records to be sent to the surgeon who’s giving a second opinion.

Medicare may help pay for a second opinion. If you have a private supplemental health insurance plan, find out if it covers a second opinion. It might be something you’re willing to pay for on your own.

If you decide to go ahead with the procedure, there are a lot of things you can do to make the process a bit easier.

Make sure you have your pre-operation tests and screenings, such as blood tests and x-rays.

Have all your insurance questions answered.

Make plans for any medical equipment or help with health care you will need when you go home.

Arrange for an adult to drive you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours after surgery.

Get written instructions about your care, a phone number to call if you have a problem, and prescription medicines you’ll need at home.


Leave your jewelry at home.

Don’t wear make-up or contact lenses to surgery.

Make sure you have complete instructions for followup care and self-care.


Make sure you follow all your doctor’s directions once you’re home.

Go for your scheduled post-operative check-up.

Ask your doctor when you can return to your normal activities.

The total cost of any surgery includes many different bills. Your surgeon can tell you how much he or she charges. You may also be billed by other doctors, such as the anesthesiologist. There will be hospital charges as well. To find out what the hospital will cost, call the hospital’s business office.

For information about Medicare benefits, call the toll-free customer service line at 800-633-4227. If you have secondary or supplemental health insurance, check to see what part of the costs it will pay.

Reprinted with permission from the National Institute on Aging. For more information, visit

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