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medical schools, provide a synopsis of their faculty
and staff members that describes each individual's
area of expertise. It takes a little time and effort to
call for more information, but the dividends can be
Try to find out the number of procedures
a surgeon has performed--the more, the better.
Other indicators of a surgeon's expertise are
certification by the American Board of Surgery,
and active membership in the professional surgical
society of their specialty. An affiliation with the
American College of Surgeons is indicated by the
letters "FACS" after the doctor's name.
Ask people you know who are familiar with
the medical community for recommendations,
including your primary-care physician, patients
who have had your surgery, nurses and others in
the medical profession.One excellent place to start
is on-line support organizations for your medical
problem. For example, for back problems I found Also, check with your
insurance company.
One other important point...getting that
qualified second opinion may require that you
travel to a different area. You may or may not
decide to go with the second opinion. If you are still
unsatisfied, there is always the possibility of a third
opinion! Surgery can be life-changing, yet we often
don't give it as much consideration as we give our
children's college education!
First and foremost, find out the exact name
of the procedure so that you can do your research.
All surgery patients should receive educational
material from their hospital prior to surgery stating
what they're doing to prevent surgical errors.
What other options are there other than
Can I expect only temporary or long-term relief
from the pain?
Will my life be different after this surgical
What are the risks (including anesthesia)?
Is this an inpatient or outpatient surgery?
What type of incision will be used? Is another
option minimally invasive or laser procedure? often have you done this
particular surgical procedure?
Questions about the medical facility:
What is the level of hospital acquired infections
(a big concern in the medical community)?
What is the rate of readmission?
Finally, your medical team should follow The Joint
Commission's (a nonprofit organization dedicated
to patient safety and quality standards for health-
care organizations) three-step protocol to reduce
the chances of a surgical error, including:
1. Verifying the procedure with you.
2. Marking the surgical site.
3. Taking a time-out to review the procedure with
the entire medical team prior to surgery.
Doctors and nurses should triple-check your
identity to make sure that you're the right patient
before they start. If you're having an inpatient
procedure and will spend part of your recovery time
at the hospital, make sure that every nurse checks
your identity in two different ways, by checking
your wrist band information and asking for your
date of birth, for example, to reduce the chances of
medication mishaps. is important to have a family
member or friend with you to answer questions
and prevent oversights and mistakes, in case you're
not able to do so--even if the surgical procedure is
not a difficult or critical operation.
Author's Notes:
Thank you Health Triangle Magazine for this monthly
article to help patients and caregivers protect themselves
when they enter the healthcare system. Written by Joni
Aldrich, Pulitzer prize nominated author, speaker, radio
program host and producer, cancer, caregiving, and patient
safety advocate. Contributions by Graham Whiteside, Vice
President of Sales and Marketing SIMnext LLC, and Chris
Jerry, founder and CEO of The Emily Jerry Foundation
( and international patient
safety advocate.