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New Surgery Guide Encourages Consumers to Evaluate Opinions

Press Release Date: February 6, 1996

A new brochure released today by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research helps consumers decide whether, when and where to have elective surgery, and encourages them to learn more—including risks and benefits—before undergoing these non-emergency procedures.

According to AHCPR Administrator Clifton R. Gaus, Sc.D., "Rapid changes in the health care marketplace mean consumers have more options, and thus more decisions to make. Decisions about surgery can be among the most important—and the most expensive—that consumers can make, and they should be involved in making these vital decisions."

Be Informed: Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Having Surgery is one of a growing number of AHCPR endeavors that help consumers make informed decisions in partnership with their health care providers, Dr. Gaus said. The brochure originally was developed at the request of the Office of Personnel Management, through its employee health services policy center, for use by federal employees.

One in 10 Americans has surgery every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and in 1992 approximately 23 million surgeries—elective and emergency—were performed in the United States.

Despite the large number of Americans who have surgery, patients often do not know what their treatment options are, or the risks and benefits related to surgical procedures.

"When faced with making decisions about surgery, many of us have trouble thinking of the important questions to ask, or we may feel reluctant to ask them," Dr. Gaus said. "This brochure is a tool that empowers consumers to ask questions that will help them receive high-quality, cost-effective health care."

Because elective surgeries do not need to be done immediately, patients have time to ask their health care provider and/or surgeon questions about the operation, and time to evaluate options they may not fully understand.

Options for patients with enlarged prostate, for example, may include watchful waiting, various medications or several surgical procedures. Breast cancer patients may need to choose among radiation therapy, chemotherapy, lumpectomy, radical mastectomy or modified radical mastectomy.

The surgery brochure lists 12 questions consumers should ask before having surgery—along with the reasons for asking them. The questions include:

  • What are the risks and benefits of having the operation?
  • Are there alternatives to surgery?
  • What happens if I don't have the operation?
  • How will my daily activities be affected following
  • surgery?

The brochure also encourages readers to get second opinions and to evaluate their hospitals' and doctors' experience with the surgery under consideration. In addition, the guide points out the need to know the approximate recovery time and costs associated with the procedure, so the patient and family can prepare for any work and financial adjustments that may result.

Other AHCPR consumer materials include the patient guides (in English and Spanish) developed for each of the 17 clinical practice guidelines sponsored by the agency, as well as Checkup on Health Insurance Choices, a brochure that helps consumers choose health insurance plans that best suit their health circumstances and financial needs. AHCPR also sponsors research to produce tools—such as "report cards"—consumers can use to evaluate health care plans.

Be Informed: Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Having Surgery is available free of charge from the AHCPR Clearinghouse. Call toll-free 800-358-9295, or write: AHCPR Clearinghouse, P.O. Box 8547, Silver Spring, MD 20907. Bulk copies of the brochures may be purchased from the U.S. Government Printing Office by calling (202) 512-1800.

For additional information, contact AHCPR Public Affairs: Salina Prasad, (301) 427-1864.

The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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