If you have surgery scheduled, are you being offered the less invasive kind?

If you’re scheduled to have a surgical procedure, there’s a very simple question you can ask that can make it safer, cheaper and very likely shorten your hospital stay.

You might say it’s a case of your surgeon giving you the “least” for your money.

I’m talking about asking if you’re a good candidate for a less invasive procedure, such as laparoscopic surgery.

Now, we all know there’s no such thing as a risk-free surgery. And you would think that a simpler procedure would be most surgeons’ first choice.

But a new study from Johns Hopkins found that’s not necessarily the case.

Researchers analyzed more than 80,000 operations, including some for which minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery should be a “no brainer” – like a routine appendectomy or gall bladder removal. Laparoscopic surgery uses miniature tools guided by cameras to make very small incisions, rather than cutting through muscles and organs.

But researchers found hospitals and doctors vary widely in their willingness to use laparoscopic and other minimally invasive surgical techniques. And the reason has nothing to do with what’s best for you.

When you need an operation, your doctor typically refers you to a specific surgeon or hospital. And most of the time, you’re going to get whatever type of operation that surgeon or hospital specializes in – whether it’s the least invasive or not.

And that’s bad news for you, because research has proven that minimally invasive procedures like laparoscopic surgery can shave a day and a half off your hospital stay and may cause fewer complications.

But only for patients lucky enough to be in the right hospital or to be referred to the right surgeon.

So before you schedule surgery, you should ask whether “less invasive” is an option.  And if your doctor says it’s not, the study’s lead author advises to get a second opinion.

Just remember – it’s your body, as well as your money. So don’t be shy about asking if there’s an easier and more affordable way.


“Patients often aren’t offered minimally invasive surgery” Nancy Shute, March 25, 2015, NPR, npr.org