Your Safe & Sound Path to Diagnosis & Surgery Decisions


Help Get the Right Diagnosis: Know All Choices for Treatment

Little known fact: about 1 in 20  diagnoses is incorrect.  Why?

  • There are only about 200-300 symptoms and 10,000 diseases! 
  • Naturally, doctors tend to view symptoms through the filters of their specialized  training.   All of  us  have filters of various kinds from our life experiences and education,  so this is pretty understandable. 

Two good reasons for lots of questions and 2nd opinions.

Patients often worry that they will offend their doctor if they get a second  opinion. But here’s the truth: good doctors encourage their patients to collect as much information as they can. They know the more information, the better any health care decisions.

Getting the right diagnosis is often like solving a mystery, and it’s really up to the patient and their Care Partner to dig for clues and answers.

This is a lot to absorb, isn’t it?  But That’s just another reason why family members and friends are so valuable as Care Partners on the path to diagnosis and treatments options that are right for each patient.

Questions are the Answer to Diagnosis and Treatment Puzzles


  • What’s my diagnosis? (What is my problem? What do I have?)   Ask for the “medical name”, and then for a “regular way” to describe it.  (Note: you can use both to dig for info on the Internet later, or in conversations with other doctors when you get a 2nd opinion.)
    • What else could it be?
    • Anything else?
  • How serious is this condition? On a 1-5 scale with “1”being “No worries, easy to treat/cure/live with” and a “5” meaning it’s life threatening and must be treated immediately.”
    • Why? What is your reasoning?
  • How would you treat me for this condition?
  • What other ways are used to treat this condition?
  • What are the benefits of each way to treat this condition?
  • What are the risks or complications for each way to treat my condition?
    • How common are the risks and complications?
    • What are the immediate, medium-term, and long-term side effects?
  • Are there other discomforts associated with the treatments?
    • Are these permanent or temporary?
    • How can these discomforts be treated?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • How long before I can get back to my normal activities?
  • What is my short-term outlook post-surgery? Are there long-term concerns or effects of this condition and treatment?
  • What are my costs?

Questions to ask when surgery has been recommended



If Surgery is Recommended, Find the Right Doctor

  • What is the name of the surgery? (Medical name and “regular” or common name)
  • How many of these surgeries have you personally done? Don’t settle for any fewer than “hundreds”, but ideally, “thousands.”
  • What are alternatives to surgery? What are some other choices?
    • What are the benefits and risks to all possible choices?
    • What are the chances for success for each choice? (What do you consider “success”?)
      Be sure to share what you consider success, taking into account your lifestyle, personal goals, and anything else that would affect your long-term physical well-being and peace of mind.
    • What are the chances for risk, complications or poor results for each choice? What are the realistic risks vs. rewards?
  • Who would actually perform my operation?
    • Who would assist? How many surgeries of this type have they performed? 
    • Would student/s/residents be present? What would student/resident do in my surgery?
  • Do you use a surgical checklist in the operating room?
  • What is your infection rate for this kind of surgery?
    • Do you recommend showering and or shampooing with Hibiclens (similar) prior to surgery? If so, for how long? If not, why not?
    • Do you prescribe a prophylactic antibiotic prior to surgery? If not taken in advance of admission, would I get at admission or just prior to surgery?
    • Will I get a pre-op MRSA test? (If “No”: will you order?)
  • Do you lead a “time out” for everyone on the surgery team to introduce themselves?
  • Will you provide me with all Informed Consent papers so I can study them and make sure everything we’ve discussed is covered?
    • Append your notes and agreements with your doctor to your Informed Consent.

If You Decide on Surgery, Know What to Expect

  • How long will the surgery take?
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used?
    • Are there other kinds of anesthesia to consider?
    • If so, what are the positives and negatives of each type?
  • How much pain can I expect?
    • When will I have it?
    • What will you use to help control my pain?
    • Any alternatives pain management resources to consider? (I.e. other meds, biofeedback)
    • Will pain management be self-administered via IV that I control — or by prescription and given by nurses?
    • Do I have a choice? (Note: studies show that, when patients self manage, they take lower doses of pain meds than are typically prescribed.)
  • How long will I be in recovery?
    • How will I be monitored after the surgery? For how long?
    • May I have a family member sit with me in the recovery area?
    • Will I get supplemental oxygen after surgery? Why? Why not?  What is the standard of care?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
    • What are the signs of recovery?
    • How will we know when I’m ready to go home?
    • May I have a family member stay with me 24/7?
    • What are sleeping provisions for my family member who stays with me?
  • Where will I go after leaving the hospital? Home? Rehab? Assisted Living? Other?
  • What care will I need after leaving the hospital?
    • Medications?
    • Therapies? (I.e. Physical therapy, Occupational therapy)
    • Wound care?
    • Daily living support?
    • In-home nursing care?
    • Other:____________________________________________________________
  • Will I need to make any changes to my…
    • Diet? What can I eat? What should I not eat?  Why? For how long?
    • Lifestyle? Changes to plan for/accommodate? Why? For how long?
    • Living arrangements? Changes to plan for/accommodate? Why? For how long?
  • What are potential post-op complications? (Red flag if infection is not mentioned. It’s always a potential complication.)
    • What are the signs of trouble?
      • For trouble signs, what should I do? Who to call? (Get phone numbers, pagers for primary contact and back-ups.)
      • What are signs for immediate help – when would we call 911?
    • What are the signs of success – the positive guideposts to healing?
  • When will I see you for post-op appointment? Can we schedule that as soon as surgery is scheduled? How often will we meet after this?
  • Do you have an Emmi video of the procedure you’re recommending so I can learn more?

Schedule Surgery at the Best Hospital at the Best Time

  • What hospital/s do you use for your surgeries? How are they rated for safety and quality?
  • Could we schedule surgery for mid-week?
    • Will you be available afterward for a few days to check in on me, or are you planning time off? Avoid Fridays, Mondays and holiday/vacation times. Choose dates when surgeon will be available afterward. Mid-week is optimal.

Know Your Costs

  • Who can help me figure out what everything will cost?
    • What are my options if I can’t afford any or all parts of treatment?
    • Available resources?

Taking good notes is a good practice!


  • There are a lot of details to cover! Patients need a Care Partner with them at every appointment to take notes or record conversations (most cell phones have this feature). Informed and pro-active Care Partners are a must for every hospital treatment – whether an Emergency Room visit, outpatient surgery or inpatient care.
  • To help doctor visits go more quickly, print this list of questions and bring them so everyone will literally be “on the same page” – a great way to start the conversation!
  • Talk to as many doctors as needed to feel comfortable with a treatment plan and surgeon that feels right.
  • Still having trouble understanding your condition and treatment options? That’s common! Health care is complicated so don’t hesitate to ask your doctors for more of their time and help. You may want to consider talking to a professional patient advocate, too.
  • It’s OK for patients to refuse treatment at any time, for any reason… even up until the last minute.

Sharing is Caring ❤

Share these tips with your family and friends.