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Older Australians encouraged to ask more questions around surgical recommendations

​Questions – we all have them and we tend to ask them. We question our spouses, our children, our relatives. We question travel agents, salespeople and mechanics. But what about our doctors?

How often do we ask questions about the tests and treatments being proposed by our GPs and other health professionals? Are we confident enough to ask questions around the benefits, risks, and costs associated with our health care before making decisions with our doctors about what’s best for us?

There are points in life where this confidence is increasingly important. As we get older our bodies become more sensitive to stressful situations – and health care can certainly cause us stress. However, people who become more involved in the decision making process around their treatment options are likely to feel more at ease. This includes recommendations of surgery.

Recommendations developed by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA), and released by Choosing Wisely Australia, are worth reading when considering surgery at, or over, the age of 70.

Research shows that patients aged over 70 run a high risk of postoperative complications. In fact, 20% will experience complications within five days of surgery, 10% will require critical care admission and, sadly, 5% will pass away within 30 days. With this in mind, there isn’t a more important time to take charge of our healthcare.

ANZCA advises that if surgery is being considered there are some important conversations that need to happen first. Doctors, family and the patient should have an open and frank discussion about expected outcomes, including goals for end-of-life care. Frailty and quality of life are important considerations in this high-risk demographic.

There are some valuable resources available for people wanting to plan ahead for their next medical appointments, including ‘5 Questions to ask your doctor before you get any test, treatment or procedure’. These are:

  • Do I really need this test or procedure?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if I don’t do anything?
  • What are the costs?

Maintaining good health is one of the most important things we can do, but it’s surprising how many people don’t question the direction of their healthcare. Armed with the latest evidence and the confidence to ask questions we can take charge of our healthcare in a positive way.

Stewardship toolkit for clinical educators

The Health Resource Stewardship for Clinical educators contains educational material about the Choosing Wisely initiative for use in universities, hospitals and health professional colleges

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5 Questions

5 questions to ask your doctor or other healthcare provider to make sure you end up with the right amount of care.

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