Surgical procedures,however routine,can be a stressful experience. Some recent events with family,friends,and patients highlight the need for effective communication to prevent unneeded anxiety.
The first event involved a neighbor who moved in following a surgical procedure. In the process,he lost his prescription medication. He phoned the surgeon after hours,only to hear a recording which said,“Leave a message for the next business day or if needed,go to the emergency room.” It was Friday night —too long to wait for Monday,but too expensive and inappropriate to visit an emergency room.
The second was a close family member. He required a routine surgical procedure. At the physician’s office,he was seen only by the physician’s assistant who diagnosed the problem and set up the surgery. The day of surgery,he was seen by a nurse,signed the consent forms,and went in for the procedure,never meeting the surgeon. According to his wife,the surgeon spoke to him as he was coming out of sedation. He left the procedure,never even knowing what his doctor looked like.
The third event was a patient who had a surgical procedure performed at a local medical practice. The surgery was performed by an out-of-town physician who came once a month at the invitation of the host physician. All follow-up care was to be done by the host physician. I was contacted when a surgical complication arose. The surgeon would not return for three weeks and the host physician was not qualified to handle the problem. In each case,patients were left asking:“Where did my doctor go?”
Unfortunately,the experiences of these patients are not unique. Prior to any procedure,patients should meet their actual surgeon,discuss the medical plan,ask who will be handling the post-operative care,and identify how a person in the office can be contacted day or night. Post-surgical care,even for small,routine procedures,is an imperative part of the recovery process. Surgery is not an exact science. Problems must be anticipated with a plan in place,if an unfortunate problem occurs.
Occasionally,specialists travel to smaller communities to perform specific procedures not available by full-time local surgeons. However,this is the exception,not the rule. Remember to choose a qualified,board certified surgeon. Good medical care includes a physician you see before,during and after the procedure. Don’t be left in the dark asking:“Where did my doctor go?”