The Questions You Need To Ask Your Doctor Before Having Surgery

You might not know the full cost, or whether there are cheaper options.

22/06/2016 7:38 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
Take charge to get the best result for yourself, and your hip pocket.

When a doctor says you need a serious procedure, it can be hard to find the words to ask for more information, let alone grill them on alternatives.

It's one of the reasons why an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia found many patients weren't informed of the full cost of a procedure and potentially cheaper options available.

This is exacerbated by the fact that out-of-pocket costs of health care are increasing well above the consumer price index, causing financial burden -- especially for people opting for private treatment when the public system was more affordable, with low wait times.

Co-author and Cancer Council Australia chief executive Sanchia Aranda told The Huffington Post Australia these questions could empower Australians to make the right choice.

"Write these questions down and make sure you ask them," Aranda told HuffPost Australia.

"Patients often feel powerless and unable to ask more but there's no such thing as a stupid question and it's important to understand the broader context beyond the initial event, often surgery."

Are there alternatives to the treatment you're suggesting and what are the pros and cons of each?

"People make decisions based on how it fits with their life, so it's not just the out-of-pocket cost comparison between two alternatives," Aranda told HuffPost Australia.

"Anecdotally, we hear country women prefer a full mastectomy to partial surgery with radiotherapy because the radiotherapy takes several weeks."

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The right treatment for you might be different for someone else.

Aranda said pros and cons should include price, effectiveness, time taken, recovery and the treatment's proximity to home.

Do you practice in a multi-disciplinary team?

Aranda said this question was getting at the idea that any treatment should be considered from multiple perspectives.

"It makes a huge difference because then you know the case is being discussed and all treatment alternatives have been considered to produce the best advice," Aranda said.

"For example we know that when someone with prostate cancer asks their surgeon for a second opinion, they will often be referred to another surgeon even though an alternative is actually radiotherapy.

"In a multi-disciplinary team, these two sides are more likely to be represented."

What's the expected journey of this condition?

Aranda said a lot of emphasis was generally placed on an initial surgery, but not the recovery process afterwards.

"You might need to take say four weeks off work for the surgery, but if you may need six weeks of radiotherapy or chemotherapy down the line, you'll need to plan for that."

If in a private clinic, is this treatment offered in the public system?

Waiting times for cancer surgery in the public system are quite short in Australia, but Aranda said initial diagnosis consults could take six months or so.

"The challenge is pre-diagnosis in public clinics," Aranda said.

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You can switch from private to public and back again.

"Many people will pay the $200 or $300 in a private clinic to get a fast diagnosis but once you're there, you can get trapped in the private system.

Aranda said patients needed to know whether the treatment carried out-of-pocket costs and how those costs compared in the public and private system

Can I make an appointment to tell you know my decision?

"Don't say yes the first time a treatment is offered to you," Aranda said. "Book in to come back once you've made a decision."

Practise these questions and ask more on the Cancer Council's hotline 13 11 20.

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