Here are some suggested questions for your conversation with the surgeon before you make a final commitment:
- What’s the best possible outcome? (Sometimes it’s not so hot, and it makes you rightly question if the treatment is worth the pain and trouble and risk.)
- What’s the worst realistic outcome that you’ve seen? (I put in “realistic” because many doctors will tell you, as a conversation stopper, that the worst outcome is death. That may be true — and if death is a realistic possibility, you sure want to know that. BUT focus on realistic possibilities and coax out what the surgeon has seen.)
- Do I really need this treatment/procedure? (A busy surgeon – and busy means a lot of doctors have confidence in this surgeon — will be more candid than a surgeon with time on his hands to tell you that waiting might be the most prudent thing to do.)
- How will having this done affect my future care? (This applies especially to diagnostic imaging tests. If it’s just to take pretty pictures, do you really need it?)
- What are my options? Is there another way to get the job done that would be safer for me?
- (Along the same lines:) If you or one of your family members had my condition, what would you recommend?
- Is there anyone at your institution (in your partnership, in my town, etc.) who does these procedures more than you do? If so, would you mind if I speak to him or her?” (A defensive response to this question is a red flag.)
- Who would you ask to do the operation on a close family member of yours if you couldn’t? (Another question that gets at the experience issue.)
More detailed questions are appropriate if what’s suggested amounts to experimental, non-standard care. Here are questions suggested by the Alliance for Human Research Protection.
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