Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Second opinions justifiable for those planning major surgery

June 30, 2002


Our doctor has suggested that my husband have colon surgery to relieve discomfort he's had for several years. I don't know if the surgery is really necessary or if the doctor is just out of other suggestions and feels he needs to recommend something. He sent us to a surgeon we don't know, and she agreed to do the operation. We still feel uneasy. How should we approach this situation?

My answer is going to come from a series of publications by the National Institutes of Health titled "AgePage." This is a good source of information for older adults covering many topics. You can find it on the Internet at agepages. If you don't have access to a computer, your local librarian can probably help.

Most surgeries are not emergencies. You have time to find out as much as possible about the surgery. You also have time to get a second opinion.

Talk to the doctor who will perform the surgery. Here are some questions you might ask:

What surgery is recommended?

Why do I need surgery?

Can another treatment be tried instead of surgery?

What if I don't have the surgery?

How will the surgery affect my health and lifestyle?

Are there any activities that I won't be able to do after surgery?

How long will it take to recover?

How much experience has the surgeon had doing this kind of surgery?

Where will the surgery be done in the hospital, the doctor's office, a special surgical center, or a day surgery unit of the hospital?

What kind of anesthesia will be used? What are the side effects and risk of having anesthesia?

Is there anything else I should know about this surgery?

Getting a second opinion from another surgeon is a good way to make sure that having surgery is the best choice for you. Many people are uneasy about seeking another opinion. They worry that they might offend their doctor. However, getting a second opinion is a common medical practice. Most doctors encourage it.

Don't be afraid to tell your surgeon that you want another opinion and that you would like your medical records sent to the second doctor. This can save time, money, and possible discomfort since tests that you've already had many not need to be repeated if the second doctor has the results.

If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061. Or call 913-477-8103, or send e-mail to

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