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3 Legal Questions to Ask Before Surgery

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

Having surgery is a major life event. Whether it is elective or life-dependant, minor or major, wanted or not, every surgery carries risk. Risk of failure, lengthy recovery, and even risk of death. Assuming you have done your due diligence choosing a surgeon, here are three legal questions to ask before going under the knife.

1 What Is the Exact Surgical Procedure That Will Be Performed?

You may have been too nervous the first few times you spoke to your doctor about your upcoming surgery. And who would blame you? Maybe you're nervous. Or excited! Be sure you clearly understand what surgical procedure you will be undergoing. Take notes. Bring a friend. Record the conversation if the doctor allows. Ask for any handouts or links to websites that the doctor may recommend.

If the doctor performs a different procedure than what you agreed to, you can file a suit for medical malpractice and battery. Given your consent to one surgery, and receiving another, is not considered consent.

2. What Are the Risks and Complications?

Have a full understanding of what to expect after the procedure is over. Not only will that help in preparing for the days, weeks, or even months post-op, but that will also provide you with a good indication of whether the procedure was performed correctly or not. If you are told there should be no complications after an eye surgery, but you can't see five days later, perhaps something went awry, and you should seek medical help immediately. And perhaps also hire a lawyer to look into a medical malpractice claim. Evidence collected sooner, rather than later, will always be key to a successful malpractice recovery.

It's an unfortunate reality that not all medical malpractice cases are taken by lawyers. Sometimes, only the ones that are a "slam dunk" are taken on, since fees are only recovered after a successful suit. In some instances, doctors and hospitals may absorb the cost of any unforeseen risks and complications (legal language just shy of medical malpractice). If you have asked about the risks up front, chances are higher that doctors and hospitals understand that you have been informed and know what to expect, and what not to expect. They may therefore be more likely to pay for any additional costs associated with botched procedures.

3. What Are the Costs?

Work with your doctor and medical staff to determine your exact out-of-pocket expenses prior to having surgery. Post-op is an awful time for surprises. You will recover best in peace, which often requires knowing how much you will be expected to pay. The medical staff should be accustomed to contacting insurance companies, including medicaid, prior to performing surgeries to receive pre-authorization. They may not be able to give you an exact figure for all costs, but should be able to give you a fairly accurate estimate as well as what is included in that estimate, such as follow-up visits, hospital stays, anesthesia, etc.

If your bill arrives, and it doesn't mesh with what you were told, you have some work ahead of you. But if you spoke with the staff beforehand, you are prepared for this battle. You can dispute your bill with the surgeon, and with your medical insurance provider. If you can't get it lowered through these routes, file an appeal with your insurance company and with your medical provider's advocate. Sometimes barking up the chain of command can help. If none of these routes prove successful, contact a local health care attorney that specializes in medical billing disputes.

And if you feel you are the victim of medical malpractice or medical assault, contact a local medical malpractice attorney, who can listen to you situation and offer you the help you deserve and need.

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