Friday, March 13, 2009

Your Surgery

Frequently in hospital-based preoperative teaching sessions, patients would confide that they really had no idea what was entailed in their upcoming surgery. The purpose of their pre-op hospital visit was to have anesthesia evaluate them, perform pre-op blood tests, provide education about the post-op routine, and obtain the patient's signature on the surgical informed consent form. By signing the consent, the patient was acknowledging that their physician had explained alternatives to the surgery, what would take place in the course of the operation and why it was being done. Our hospital provided some specific pre-op teaching as well, but details about the exact procedure were expected to be shared by the surgeon. There were occasions when we had to either call the physician to speak with the patient or defer signing the consent until the day of the actual procedure.

Why don't patients ask their doctor specific questions about their surgery? And more importantly why don't physicians always provide verbal or written information to explain what's going to happen in the surgery? My thoughts on this are simple. Patient education has never been a real priority in healthcare so it gets overlooked. Patients are used to a paternalistic relationship with their physician and presume they will be told what they need to know.

These days more patients and their family members understand the advantages of advance preparation and want to know as much as possible about planned surgeries. It can be difficult and time consuming to search for reliable information on medical procedures. Certainly we can google just about any procedure and return tens of thousands of results. Promising links have led me to sites that want payment before providing the information I have been browsing for patients, while other "good" sites were frustrating because of broken links . . .

I was neither frustrated nor disappointed by Surgery.com, a free website with straightforward information covering a variety of surgical procedures. Use the search box in the upper right hand corner or select from the broad surgical categories listed in the left hand column. When selecting a category (cancer, for example), scroll to the bottom of the page where a list of the "top surgeries" of the category will appear. Then select "see all" for the complete list of surgeries in that category. Select "alphabetize" to make searching among those choices even easier. The Surgery.com articles often contain images of the procedure and sometimes link to additional information. (I must admit I was disappointed to see gallbladder surgery listed in the urological category instead of gastrointestinal where it belongs--there may be other miscategorized procedures, but the information on the actual procedures is good.)

The American College of Surgeons, Patient Education pages are also a great resource. I did find it a bit tricky to navigate the site and feel they could use some fine tuning to make searching more patient friendly. Select the category of surgery to choose the specific operation of interest.

What kind of results can you expect from your online search? Here are links to four common procedures from several different patient education sites for comparison:

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