Outpatient surgery is a wonderful alternative to spending a night or more in a noisy, unwelcoming hospital. In fact, outpatient surgery, in which you’re admitted to a surgical center (sometimes located at or owned by a hospital) or doctor’s office in the morning and are home by that night, is now the most common way surgery is performed in the US. Lumpectomies, cataract removal and hemorrhoid removal are just some of the nearly 60 million surgeries that were performed on an outpatient basis last year.
But outpatient surgery is not risk-free. Over the past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued more stringent guidelines for infection control in outpatient settings. Previously, unless the outpatient surgical center was part of a hospital, it did not have to meet the strict rules and regulations that hospitals are required to meet in order to maintain their licenses. And few states have regulated doctor’s office surgeries at all.
For a successful outcome from outpatient surgery…
Know what to expect. A woman recently told me that she had to cancel a lumpectomy on the day of surgery because it was only then that she was informed that she would need to have someone such as a friend or family member in her home for at least 24 hours after surgery due to the anesthesia she was scheduled to receive. This story illustrates why it’s so important to know what to expect and start planning well before the day of the operation. Self-defense: Ask your doctor at least a week before your surgery for a list of instructions. These should, of course, include whether you will need someone to be with you after surgery. But you should also be told of presurgical diet restrictions and additional medical tests you may need to have prior to surgery due to other existing conditions.
Volunteer information. I was coauthor of an Institute of Medicine study that found outpatient instructions were often too general and did not take into account how a patient’s other medical conditions and/or medications may affect his/her surgery and recovery. For example, a blood thinner may cause serious internal bleeding after certain procedures. Self-defense: If, prior to surgery, your doctor fails to review all the medications (and supplements) you’re taking and any new developments in your overall health, bring that information up yourself.
Remember that recovery takes time. You’ll spend only a few hours at the surgical center, but it may take days or even weeks (to regain full vision after eye surgery, for example) for you to fully recover at home. Self-defense: Do not leave the surgical center until you have written instructions that are tailored precisely to what happened during your surgery. In addition to general information such as when to restart your medications, you may need special antibiotics or a specific type of follow-up appointment with your doctor. Also: Make sure that you get a list of phone numbers where you can reach a health professional to answer any questions you may have 24 hours a day.
Source: Charles B. Inlander, a consumer advocate and health-care consultant based in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania. He was the founding president of the nonprofit People’s Medical Society, a consumer advocacy organization credited with key improvements in the quality of US health care in the 1980s and 1990s, and is the author of 20 books, including Take This Book to the Hospital With You: A Consumer Guide to Surviving Your Hospital Stay (St. Martin’s).