Conquer Overwhelm:

19 Important Questions To Ask Before Surgery

19 Important Questions To Ask Before Surgery

Don’t Be Afraid to Upset the Medical Apple-cart 


If you are an advocate or anticipate you will make health care decisions for a loved one, this is for you. If you would like to avoid the caregiving mistakes I made, this is definitely for you. We have a responsibility to our family to be a voice when our loved ones need it most; when they are unable to do so themselves. This article addresses the 19 areas/questions to ask before surgery and as discharge planning happens.

My dad had 11 surgeries over 2 1/2 years and many inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation stays. I got a first-hand look at the medical community and how hospitalizations are managed. As my dad’s caregiver and advocate, I proactively reached out to doctors, case managers, and his employer to ensure he received excellent care and everything was handled appropriately. This also meant staying with my dad at the hospital to the extent possible. Being their voice, eyes, and ears is the best way to get full information, minimize concern, and ensure consistency of care. Particularly with brain injury, getting firsthand information was critical.

The biggest thing to remember when you or a loved one is in the hospital is to start working with the medical team towards discharge planning upon admission. Click To Tweet


Biggest Myth About Surgery and Hospitalizations

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The biggest thing to remember when you or a loved one is in the hospital is to start working with the medical team towards discharge planning upon admission. Some people think discharge planning happens at discharge. This is NOT true.

Discharge planning starts at admission. I realize the anticipated discharge date may be unknown but if you go in with this mindset, you can start asking the right questions. Hospitals typically have an idea of discharge planning sooner than we think.


One thing that surprised me but probably shouldn’t have is how quickly hospitals turn patients around. I’m sure this isn’t always the case. You must be diligent and proactively plan for discharge. The medical team may welcome your questions or they may be annoyed. I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum. It only matters what is in the best interest of your loved one. Don’t be afraid to upset the apple-cart!

Questions to Ask the Medical Team Prior to or Immediately After Admission

Conquer Overwhelm: of these questions you should ask prior to hospital stays (assuming you have time or a choice) and others should be asked during stays. These questions include:

1.  What is the diagnosis? What are the short and long-term outlook and what treatments are recommended?

2.   Are symptoms normal for the condition?

3.   Are there any underlying concerns?

4.   Will new medications be required or existing ones changed? If so, are there interactions with other medications? What side effects might there be?

5.  What are the pros and cons of treatment options, as applicable?

6.   What tests are being ordered and what will results show us?

7.  If tests involve an invasive procedure, are there any alternatives and what are the pros and cons of these options?

8.  Will rehabilitation or home health care of any kind be required? If so, what time-frame can I expect before decisions are needed? Do they have a list of preferred providers and/or facilities?  Who will help coordinate needed items, therapy, supplies, and equipment?  Is there a Case Manager in charge of this case?  Note that Case Managers and/or Social Workers are usually assigned in cases where post-hospital care is required. Insist on meeting with them and getting daily updates. Attach yourself to their hip!  I did this and learned SO much about the key players, how decisions are made, the role insurance plays, how progress is measured, and more.

9.    Before discharge, what outpatient care, prescriptions and follow up is required? When was the last time medications were given? Get specific instructions in writing.

10.    When did the doctor(s) graduate from medical school and what subsequent training have they received? Do they serve on any boards, associations, or have research experience in their specialty? Do any treating doctors or surgeons have any disciplinary actions on file with the state? NOTE:  You can research this prior to an appointment or surgery (if you have time to plan in advance).

11.   How many surgeries has the surgeon performed? Will anyone else be operating? If so, who and why? When will you meet with the anesthesiologist? You’ll want to ensure they know the patients’ medical history. In my vast experience, Anesthesiologists are pretty darn good at knowing the patients’ history and do an outstanding job. I started asking the question  “will anyone else be operating?” after I learned doctors we weren’t aware were going to be in the room, much less operating, were indeed operating. I want to know these things. I know hospitals have a duty to prepare those coming up behind them in their field. I believe we have a right to know who is actually operating on our loved ones.

Questions to Ask the Medical Team Prior to or Immediately After Surgery


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Remember, your primary concern is the well-being of your loved one. Don’t be concerned with how the medical team will feel. That said, you want to approach these subjects with respect. Here are some of the key questions to ask the medical team regarding surgery:

12.   What symptoms should I watch for after surgery?

13. How long should recovery take and what does ‘recovery’ mean? This is important for, among other things, brain injury related conditions and surgeries. I learned that recovery doesn’t mean the patient has their memory back or has returned to their baseline health.

14.  Are there any recommended resources available on the condition?

15.   How are doctors compensated? Specifically, do they earn bonuses? If so, what are bonus-qualifying factors?

16.   How is pain management handled? Does the patient need to ask for pain medication, will staff ask the patient for pain levels, or is medication automatically administered?

17.   How is discharge date determined and who is involved in the decision? How and when will any needed equipment or home health care needs be addressed? Will family/primary caregiver be trained accordingly, as appropriate?

18.    If necessary, who makes decisions about using restraints? This is important for patients who are prone to falling, wandering around unsupervised, or not able to listen or follow directions.

19. Are they getting their routine medications and what is the medication administration schedule?

Medical  Summary

Conquer Overwhelm:

There are SO many more questions and considerations and this is a good place to start when you have hospitalized loved ones or anticipate hospitalization soon. I called this post don’t be afraid to upset the apple-cart because some people may think that the medical staff will proactively share this information and some people think they are bothering the doctors and nurses with these questions.

The truth is some staff do proactively share this information and others don’t. Some medical professionals are patient and compassionate and will answer all of your questions as if you are the only person in the world that matters and some may get really annoyed with the hint of a question. Take the bull by the horns. This is your life or the life of your loved one we’re talking about.

Be proactive. Ask the questions. Demand the answers. Above all, be patient, understanding, kind, respectful and thankful for all medical professionals involved in your loved one’s care. Between everyone, you are a fabulous team.


To hear this information via my Empowered Family Caregiver podcast, head over here: >>

Your Turn:  If you’ve been a family caregiver, are there things you asked that aren’t on this list? Are there questions you wish you had asked?  What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a caregiver? Please comment below!!


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Tandy Elisala

Family Caregiver Coach, Cancer Empowerment Advocate and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness | Empowered Family Caregiver
Tandy Elisala is passionate about helping family caregivers go from being overwhelmed and stressed to empowered and calm. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. Tandy left her corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously while raising three kids as a single mom. She took care of both parents for 2 1/2 years until their respective deaths. Tandy now teaches what she learned on her journey. Tandy is a family caregiver coach, a multiple best-selling author, inspirational speaker and mom to three adult kids, one angel dog and one diva cat.

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