Unless your operation is an emergency, you’ll see your surgeon at least once in the clinic before your surgery date. Usually, that visit happens at least a week or two before your operation.
Your clinic visit is incredibly important: It’s where you and your surgeon will discuss your condition and decide what operation, if any, you need. It’s where important risk factors can be discussed. And it’s the best place for you to get your questions answered.
To be ready for your clinic visit, and to be sure that your doctor has all the information he or she needs to make a good decision about operating, there are some very important things to bring with you and to keep in mind.
Know How Clinic Visits Generally Work
New patient visits usually follow a pretty standard pattern: You check in at the clinic and have your vital signs taken by a medical assistant or nurse, and then are taken to an exam room. Hopefully, a surgical resident, medical student, or your attending surgeon will be in to see you promptly, though sometimes clinics can run late if there are unexpected issues with other patients. When your medical provider arrives, he or she will ask you about your medical conditions and perform a physical exam. If you’re being seen by a student or resident, he or she will then go tell your story to the attending surgeon, who will come in to see you to discuss surgical options and describe any proposed operation.
Bring a List of All Your Medications
One of the most important things your surgeon will need to know before any operation is what medications you’re taking. Some medications, such as beta-blockers and insulin, are important to keep taking before and after your operation. Others, such as blood thinners and some high blood pressure and diabetes medications, may need to be stopped several days before your operation.
If you’re admitted to the hospital, your medical team will need to know the doses of all your home medications to be sure you get them from the hospital pharmacy. The best way to make sure all of that happens is to bring a printed list of every medication you take (including herbal remedies), the dose, and how frequently you take it. On your list, add the name of your primary care doctor and the number for your home pharmacy, and include any allergies to medication.
Have Your Medical Records and Imaging Sent Ahead of Time
By having your medical record sent to the clinic ahead of time, your surgeon can read about your condition before you even get into the clinic, saving valuable time. Records of prior operations, and the workup for the condition that you’re seeing your surgeon for, are particularly important. And your surgeon will want to look at any imaging tests (x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or ultrasounds) that you’ve had done for your condition.
Ask your primary care doctor or the facility where you had imaging done to send a copy of your records and imaging to your surgeon. If your surgeon works in the same office or hospital where you’ve already had your workup done, your records are probably already available, but check with the clinic before your appointment to be sure.
Bring Someone Who Can Take Notes and Ask Questions
A visit to your surgeon can be a stressful experience. Remembering what questions you want to ask – and your surgeon’s answers – can be hard under those circumstances. So try to bring a friend or family member who can take notes and ask questions, and write down any questions you want to ask beforehand, so you can refer to them.
Make a Recording of Your Clinic Session
Many patients bring a small recorder with them to the clinic to record their conversation about the operation so that they can play it back later for reference. This is a great idea. You should ask your surgeon if it’s ok for you to record the discussion and it helps us remember to describe things with words rather than hand gestures.
Dress for a Physical Exam
Regardless of what operation you’re having, a comprehensive pre-op clinic visit requires a complete physical exam. You should expect to change into a hospital gown, so wear loose-fitting clothing and don’t worry about dressing up. Many patients prefer to have the talk about their operation in their regular clothes, though, and you should feel free to ask your surgeon to step out and allow you to get dressed before talking about the details of your operation.
Ask for a Chaperone
The physical exam is a critical part of your clinic visit. If you’re not comfortable with your surgeon or one of the surgeon’s trainees performing a physical exam on you, feel free to ask for a nurse or medical assistant to be present in the room as well. And your surgeon may automatically bring in someone to assist, particularly if it’s necessary to examine sensitive areas like the breasts, pelvis, or rectum. Your feeling comfortable is a very important thing to us, and we don’t take requests for a chaperone personally.
Know that Visiting a Surgeon Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Having an Operation
When you go to a clinic appointment, you’re there to discuss surgical options. But you shouldn’t expect that your surgeon will recommend surgery, and even if he or she does, it will likely be scheduled days or weeks in the future.
The purpose of the clinic visit is to tell you whether surgery might help with your condition, and to discuss the risks and benefits of any operation. That means that both you and your surgeon should be asking not just what operation would be right for you, but whether you need an operation at all. If you don’t like the answers you get, you should feel free to ask your surgeon, or your primary care doctor, to recommend another surgeon who can provide a second opinion.
These are some of the issues that I see most frequently in the surgery clinic. What has your experience been? Any other pointers for people visiting a surgeon’s office for the first time? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!
This story originally appeared in the Health Dialog Care Compass Blog.