It used to be that the hospital was the only place to go for surgery, but the number of people opting for outpatient operations is on the rise.
Every year, an estimated 15 million surgeries are performed in surgical centers with no hospital or emergency department attached. And according to the Joint Commission, the number of outpatient surgical clinics climbed 25 percent from 2001 to 2006.
On "Good Morning America," Dr. Lisa Thornton discussed the five issues everyone should address before opting for outpatient surgery. First, she said people considering an outpatient procedure should consult a doctor.
"This is not a decision you make on your own," she said. "You and your physician form a team, and he should guide you through this process."
Thornton explained that outpatient surgery isn't for people likely to need a transfusion or an intensive care unit or for those over a certain weight. Long surgeries and surgeries for complicated conditions should also be performed in a hospital.
After getting a doctor's OK, patients should make sure the place they're undergoing surgery is accredited.
"It should be accredited by one of four independent organizations that cover ambulatory surgical centers," Thornton said. "If it's accredited, there's been some quality control. It means the facility has been vetted according to surgical standards."
Patients shouldn't hesitate to find out how many times a surgeon has performed a particular operation.
"You want to hear that they are very comfortable with the procedure. Surgeons don't count the number of times they've done a procedure. You don't want it to be the first few times someone has done something," Thornton said. "But a lot of procedures are very similar. For example, your surgeon may not have done tons of laparoscopic surgeries on your elbow, but he's done plenty of laparoscopic surgeries in the arm area. So that should give you some confidence."
In an outpatient facility, as in any hospital, an anesthesiologist should be able to intervene in an emergency.
"That could mean that a nurse anesthetist will be at your actual bedside, but a supervising anesthesiologist should be within quick shouting distance," Thornton said. "'Supervising' means the doctor is managing several rooms, but he shouldn't be more than steps away from where you are."
"Fourth, ask what the game plan is if a medical emergency arises," Thornton said. "You want to hear that they can quickly transfer you to a full-service hospital nearby."
Finally, before choosing an outpatient facility, patients should find out what follow-up care will entail.
"You want a detailed list," Thornton said. "You want to know what to expect from recovery time, any complications, when you'd be able to return to work, when to worry and call the doctor, what sort of pain you'll have and how will it be managed."