As a Patient Navigator, I spent five years directing international patients to the appropriate specialists in South Florida. One of my biggest roles was empowering patients to question a medical system that is challenging, frustrating, and often appears dysfunctional. Here are some observations and misconceptions that may tweak your decision to have surgery. I call them sickly myths because not being an informed healthcare consumer can make you sick or sicker.
Sickly Myth #1: Your doctor will be offended if you tell him/her you are getting a second opinion.
The truth: Your doctor will respect your decision. If you are fortunate to have a good relationship with him/her, they know you are being savvy. Everyone getting an invasive procedure should get a second opinion. No need to apologize.
Sickly Myth #2: Trust your images, pathology, and lab reports.
The truth: Images and pathology reports can be re-examined by a fresh set of eyes. Make sure you know where your records and test reports are located and how to obtain copies. I can’t tell you the many times patients came to me with a scary diagnosis, like cancer, only to find out it was not true. Unintentional interpretation errors do occur.
Sickly Myth #3: Hospitals are 7/24.
The truth: Timing your hospital admission is important. Hospitals run on three shifts, and each shift creates its own working environment. Time your admission and overnight stays to weekdays if you can. The day shift is prime time for hospitals because they have more support during these times, allowing them to place more focus on you. The time of year makes a difference too. The end of July and early August many doctors and nurses take vacations. Even if your surgeon is here, this may limit access to a sub specialist if something comes up, or if you need a second opinion, or supportive treatments.
Sickly Myth #4: Choose a medical center by rankings in magazines, billboards, and websites.
The truth: Look for objective sources. Healthcare facility report cards as reported by stage agencies are more reliable in telling you about infection rates, readmission & complication rates, billing problems, and patient value rating. These sites are improving: www.ahca.myflorida.com www.medicare.gov/hospitals/compare/search.html
Sickly Myth #5: I want my procedure to be done on an inpatient basis so I can stay in the hospital overnight.
The truth: The longer you stay in a hospital, the greater your chances of getting an infection or dying from a complication. Whenever possible, have your surgery in an outpatient setting, either at the hospital or at an ambulatory surgery center (ASC). Or, if it’s a minor procedure, find out if you can have it performed at your physician’s office. After the surgery, it is better to recuperate in your own home.
Sickly Myth #6: Recuperation will be quick. You tell yourself, I’m in great shape, I work out, and so after surgery I should be back to normal in no time.
The truth: Your overall health goes beyond your physical appearance and is a greater indicator of a good outcome and speedy recovery. Your preventive medical history is of consequence. Two often overlooked areas are eyes and oral care. Both specialties can unearth potential problems. I had a patient that had cataracts, she came from the Virgin Islands to get them checked, but at the last minute cancelled the appointment. Two months later she had a stroke. Most likely, her undetected high blood pressure, which led to the cerebral bleeding, would have been discovered by the ophthalmologist, sparing her from a lot of suffering.
Sickly Myth #7: Nice doctors are good doctors.
The truth: Your doctors should be nice to you. But you are choosing a surgeon for their surgical skills, their experience, and their good outcomes. Some flexibility has to be given to talented surgeons who are sometimes overwhelmed by a system that demands more than clinical skills. They have to run a practice, manage staff, keep abreast of insurance contracts, and many other tasks unrelated to direct patient care. So, if your surgeon is perhaps not as chatty as you would like, learn to focus on your shared values. Which are: You want to get better. Your surgeon wants you to get better.
Sickly Myth #8: Convenience is crucial. Perhaps you have chosen a great surgeon, but don’t like the place he/she is recommending for the surgery. Parking is difficult, or it’s not close to your house.
The truth: You want to go where the surgeon performs surgery routinely and is credentialed to perform surgeries. This reduces the likelihood of mistakes and complications
Sickly Myth #9: Anesthesia is the most frightening part of surgery.
The truth: Anesthesia administration has never been safer. But rather than take my word, meet with your nurse anesthetist or Anesthesiologist and have them explain the preferred sedation, its effects, and what you can expect. Write down your questions so you don’t forget what to ask when you meet. On the day of surgery you’ll feel much better knowing the anesthesiologist is on your team.
Government data shows that 10 percent to 20 percent of surgeries performed in the United States in some specialties are unnecessary. Avoid being part of that statistic, by being your own health advocate. Do your research, talk to different providers and be at peace with your healthcare choices.
Maria B. Freed, M.H.S.A. is the Administrator at Coral Gables Surgery Center and a Certified Patient Navigator. firstname.lastname@example.org
2645 Douglas Road, 4th Floor
Miami, FL 33133