Know how to get answers to post op questions – Before the surgery

An 3D illustration of a question mark.

Patients often ask for post operative advice on the web. I think the web is a great information gathering tool, but in the post-operative period, it is not a good place to start.

Why is this?

Giving you advice on any medical conditions depends on many things. These include:

  • intimate knowledge of what procedure was performed
  • detailed familiarity with symptoms
  • a physical exam

Clearly, none of these 3 conditions can be found in an internet correspondence. At best, you will be getting well-intentioned, but possibly misguided information. At worst, you could be delaying proper treatment.

The best person to answer questions about your surgery is the surgeon who operated on you!

It is in the doctor’s best interest to make sure all post operative issues are handled quickly. The only way that can happen is if you communicate with him. You should always try to contact your surgeon first, rather than go online to get answers. If your problem occurs outside of normal office hours, his answering service should be able to get in touch with him within the hour.

Do not be afraid to be insistent in getting in touch with him.  The doctor may be at home with his pager or phone in another room. Sometimes the doctor may simply not hear the phone ring. Call again.  The doctor’s answering service should have several back up numbers which include the doctor’s cell phone number, home phone number, and in some cases even his spouse’s phone number. A doctor’s spouse can sometimes tell the answering service where to find the doctor or when to expect a call back.

If you have a problem or a question in the postoperative period you should be able to have immediate access to your surgeon. If after two calls to the answering service you do not get an answer, demand to speak with someone from the practice.  Only if you are unsuccessful after doing this should you consider going online to get answers.

In certain instances that you can not find your doctor, you should call 911: If you are having shortness of breath, a high fever (above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit), or extreme pain, then you need to go to the emergency room. Once there, let the emergency room physician know your Plastic Surgeon’s answering service number so he can inform your doctor of your condition. Sometimes hospitals have more effective ways of getting to the surgeon. Remember, your Plastic Surgeon can give the emergency room physician very important information and clues about what to be on the lookout for, so keep him in the loop.

The best way to make sure this does not happen to you is to find out the protocol for getting in touch with your doctor after surgery. You should ask this question at your pre-operative appointment, if the information is not provided at that time. If no information about post op communication is given to you, tell the surgeon that you expect to be able to access him/her in the postoperative period. You want a commitment from your surgeon that you will get prompt access. If the surgeon appears uncomfortable or evasive, that is a red flag.

Personally,I give my cell phone number to all my patients for their use during the post operative period. The beauty of it is that patients will text me for more routine questions, but telephone me if they are experiencing problems. Alternately, others will send pictures over the phone and ask if it looks OK. Digital photos are a great communication tool. It is the best of modern technology combined with personal access.

By Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez MD Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Cosmeticsurg Baltimore, Maryland Ricardo L. Rodriguez on American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Related categories