The days when surgery was automatically associated with a hospital stay are long gone.

Today, many procedures are done on an outpatient basis, meaning the patient goes home to recover soon after the surgery, rather than staying overnight, or multiple nights as they would with inpatient surgery (you can read about the difference between inpatient vs. outpatient care here). That’s thanks to improvements in technology as well as advances in anesthesia and pain control, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Some of the most common procedures performed on an outpatient basis include hernia repairs, gallbladder removals, cataract surgeries, joint surgeries, tonsillectomies, hysterectomies, appendectomies, and surgeries on muscles and tendons. That’s just a partial list; there are scores of others, and a doctor’s decision to perform outpatient surgery will depend on the procedure as well as the patient.  

The benefits of outpatient surgery are a win for the patient, starting with lower costs. If you compare planned, outpatient knee and hip procedures to inpatient surgeries, the price difference is shocking: inpatient knee replacements cost an average of $30,249 compared to the outpatient cost of $19,002; for hip replacements, the cost for inpatient surgery averages $30,685 while outpatient is $22,078. And then there are the other benefits, such as easier scheduling, plus, the convenience and reduced stress of recovering at home. It’s no surprise that in the coming years, experts predict we’ll see even more outpatient procedures. According to research by McKinsey & Company, physicians predict that ambulatory care will increase by 12 percent per year for the next decade.

As doctors—and patients—increasingly rely on outpatient care, there are questions to ask your healthcare provider, and ways to prepare. Read on, so that you can be an educated patient and feel prepared to make informed decisions about your health care.

  1. Ask the right questions at your appointment. When a healthcare provider tells you that you need to have a surgical procedure, it can unleash a wave of emotions. In the moment, you might not know what to say, or what questions to ask. Here are some good starting points, whether at the office or during follow-up communication:
    1. What is the surgery?
    2. Why do I need it?
    3. How will it help me, and how long will the benefits last?
    4. What are the risks?
    5. How quickly do I need it?
    6. Will this be inpatient or outpatient?
    7. What kind of anesthesia will I receive?
    8. How long will I need to recover?
    9. What will it cost?
  2. Request detailed instructions on how you can prepare. Your health care provider and their office team may provide a list of instructions to ready you for surgery. You’ll also want to make a list of your own questions if the list doesn’t answer them, such as when to stop eating and drinking before the appointment; whether or not to take medication before the appointment; if there are any medications you can fill or equipment you can secure prior to the procedure to make your recovery smoother; what to bring to the surgery; how long it’s expected to take and more.
  3. Ask about restrictions following the surgery. For example, when will you be able to drive again? Will you be able to walk or move around soon after? Can you lift and carry things? Will you be able to bathe or shower on your own? Can you eat solid foods? How long will you need to avoid travel? Should you avoid people/crowds for a while in order to keep healthy? Will you need a caregiver, and if so, for how long? When you know what to expect you can stock up and/or make arrangements accordingly.
  4. Stock up. If you have enough advance notice, you can shop for or order all the things you’ll need that will keep you safe, comfortable and satisfied as you recover. Maybe that means stocking up on particular foods, beverages or nutritional supplements. Or you could benefit from adaptive equipment for the bath or shower. Perhaps you need to set up an alternate room that’s easier to access. You might want to purchase books, games or other entertainment. Spend your time and energy preparing these things, so you don’t have to stress or strain as you recover.
  5. Clean up. Nothing sets a mind at ease like a tidy, organized home. If you’re not able to do the cleaning, yourself, and can afford to hire someone, consider doing so. Alternatively, see if friends or family might be able to help out, and promise that you’ll return the favor.  
  6. Prioritize your health. You want to be your very best when you go in for your procedure. You may have weeks or months to prepare, or it could just be a matter of hours. Whatever you do, take proper care of yourself so that you’re feeling healthy and well-rested the day of. 
  7. Get your paperwork in order. Make sure that you’ve gotten all the needed approvals from your insurance provider so that there won’t be any surprises down the line. In addition, if you’ll be out of commission for a while, make sure that whoever will be helping out has the proper passwords to access any accounts they might need, and is aware of your expectations, needs and wishes as you recover.
  8. Arrange for help. Think of what you’ll need on the day of the surgery and in the days that follow, and plan accordingly.  You’ll want to secure a ride home from the surgery center, and may want to ask someone to stay with you for the 24 hours or so that follow. And you’ll want to delegate any needed care for children and pets until you can resume your duties.
  9. Take deep breaths. On the day of your surgery, follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to food, drinks and medication restrictions. In addition, wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, and leave jewelry and valuables at home. If you wear glasses, contacts or dentures bring a case so you can store them. Make sure you have your insurance card, photo identification and co-pay, if needed. If you’re nervous, listen to music or focus on breathing exercises to try and calm yourself. And remember, you’ll be on the road to recovery before you know it!
  10. Take care of yourself. When the procedure is complete, you’re back in control. Healthy choices can help you recover smoothly. Be sure and listen to your doctor’s orders and follow them. Beyond those instructions, try and get as much rest and sleep as you can; eat a nutritious diet; stay hydrated; ask for help when you need it and be kind to yourself. Your body has been through a lot, and it can take time to recover and rebuild.

While this list is meant as a guide, keep in mind that every procedure is different. Be sure and ask your healthcare provider about how to best prepare, and follow their instructions. They know you, and your body, best.