Eight Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Medical Procedure

Eight Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Medical Procedure

By Melissa Wardlaw.

Many years ago now, like millions of people around the world, I was dealing with severe chronic lower back and neck pain (and still am). After trying to deal with it on my own for many years using chiropractors and natural methods, I finally went to a spine specialist. He in turn referred me to a pain management specialist for epidural steroid injections. So on the day of the procedure(s), I met the doctor for the first time in the procedure room. He asked me if I wanted both epidurals (meaning the cervical and lumbar) at the same time. Not knowing any different, of course I said I wanted them at the same time! I later found out this was against standard protocol. Long story short, during the cervical epidural, something went wrong and the epidural needle transected all the way through my spinal cord causing a SCI at C5/6 levels (as evidenced by MRI films). Thankfully I wasn’t paralyzed even though many doctors after the fact said I should have been. Ultimately, this was considered a major complication for which I signed a consent form.

Even though a subsequent diagnosis of CRPS type 2, among other severe chronic illness/pain and other debilitating issues took me out of the game (and life for many years), disabling me then and still now, the doctor was able to walk free and is still practicing medicine (and performing epidurals).

Melissa Wardlaw

If only I could go back and do things differently, I might not have suffered so greatly. I should have thoroughly researched what an epidural steroid injection was and what to expect prior to, during and after the procedure(s). In addition, I should have asked the doctor a whole host of questions.

So to prevent others from encountering a similar fate, below I have included some questions I should have asked the doctor before my epidurals (or any invasive medical procedure or surgery):
1) How many times have you performed this procedure and when was the last time?
Make sure the procedure is something the doctor is experienced at doing and does on a regular basis. If he can’t answer when the last time he performed the procedure was, this probably means it’s not too common for him and you might consider going to a different doctor.
2) Can you please walk me through what will happen before, during and after the procedure?
The doctor should be able to tell you in detail what the process entails from beginning to end – with confidence. He should tell you if you will be put under anesthesia (light sedation or general), how long the procedure will last, what exactly will be done during the procedure, how long your recovery will last and what you should expect in your recovery, including medications you will be prescribed (and if you need to fill them prior to the procedure). If he can’t answer ALL of these questions, and any follow up questions you have, something is wrong and I would run!
3) Have you ever had any complications?
Most doctors will have had at least a few complications in their years of practicing medicine – the key is, what happened during these complications. For example – Were they major or minor? How did he react during the complication(s) and what did he do to counteract the complication(s)? If a doctor tells you that he hasn’t had any complications, it might be a good idea to get a second opinion because he’s either extremely lucky or lying!
4) What are my chances for success?
The doctor should be able to give you some sort of guide or statistics for what to expect as far as what the procedure will do for you and your condition. You should be able to justify having an invasive procedure done in the first place by asking your doctor to explain why the procedure is necessary or even worth the risk.
As an example, I had a lumbar fusion (invasive surgery) many years ago; they used coral material and I was under the assumption it would cure the back pain I had – otherwise why have the surgery? Well, after the surgery, my pain was not any better and possibly a bit worse, shifting a little bit more severely to the right side and making my sciatica worse. I asked the doctor why the pain wasn’t gone. He told me that it only helps the pain in approximately 30% of cases! But it does help the mechanical issue he said. Only 30% chance of even helping the pain??!! On top of this, he told me it would take a year to fully recover!
Needless to say, had I done my research and thoroughly questioned the surgeon beforehand, I would have found out this information which might have changed my mind about getting the surgery altogether!
5) What are the percentages of success you’ve had in other patients – referrals?
It’s important to find out about success stories the doctor has had and even ask for referrals from other patients – yes, referrals! If the doctor is confident in his abilities, he won’t be scared to give you the names of a few patients who have had the exact same procedure you are thinking of having. This way you can not only find out how other patients fared, but also exactly how their experiences were with the same doctor. This information is invaluable, will add to your preparation and ease your anxiety.
6) Have you ever been sued for malpractice?
This might sound like a controversial question, but I do wish I would have asked the doctor who caused my spinal cord injury this question. Many doctors have been sued for malpractice, so just having been sued doesn’t necessarily mean much; what you are trying to determine is if the doctor has any malpractice suits related to the specific procedure(s) you are considering and if so, what were the issues surrounding it.
In addition, if he has been sued for malpractice, this will allow you to do further research and determine if the facts match up to the information he’s giving you. It is also very easy for doctors to settle or win malpractice suits because they have many skilled attorneys defending them. In my situation, had I done my research into the doctor’s background, I would have found pending malpractice lawsuits and complaints, which is a clear sign to, at the very minimum, investigate further or find a new doctor!
7) Can you please elaborate on (X, Y, Z) internet review?
These days, most doctors have reviews on the internet which makes it a little easier to research them and feel more confident in your decision to use (or not use) them. However, as we all know, just because a doctor has a negative (or positive) review, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the accuracy of the situation that occurred. The patient who reviewed the doctor may have been exaggerating or lying altogether to get revenge. So if the doctor has negative reviews, it’s a good idea to ask him his side of the situation to 1) see IF he answers it and 2) gauge his answer and see if he takes accountability or even feels bad for the patient’s negative experience. The point is, his answer can tell you a lot about what type of doctor and person he is, and therefore if you want him performing an invasive procedure on you.
8) Are there any alternatives for me besides this procedure?
Before going through any invasive procedure, it is imperative that you are 100% sure the benefits or potential rewards outweigh the risks or potential side effects. It is usually prudent to exhaust all other non-invasive options prior to taking the invasive route if you can. So make sure you allow your doctor to go through all other treatment options to help determine if the procedure is right for you.
In summary, every procedure, no matter how small, carries the potential for risk. Minor complications during procedures are relatively normal and should be anticipated – particularly if the procedure is done by an experienced physician who performs the procedure on a regular basis. Having complications during a procedure or surgery is not uncommon because frankly things go wrong when there are so many variables in play – how the doctor handles the complications however, is the important part. You can and should reduce the number of variables by educating yourself in a variety of ways.
There is an excellent TED talk by Dr. Brian Goldman about making mistakes in medicine that should be required viewing for ALL doctors and patients – you can view it here: https://youtu.be/iUbfRzxNy20
I encourage you to use this guide and make sure to research and question your doctor BEFORE your next invasive procedure. You owe it to yourself and your life!
Melissa Wardlaw was diagnosed with CRPS/RSD as a result of a spinal cord injury (non-paralyzing) suffered during a routine medical procedure. She also suffers from fibromyalgia, lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, migraines and additional chronic medical issues. Formerly a Business Executive/Consultant with an MBA in Entrepreneurship, she is also a Certified Career Coach and Certified Professional Resume Writer, and now spends her time career coaching and offering peer counseling/advocacy (pro bono) to those dealing with similar medical struggles. As a fierce advocate, she also runs both in-person and online Support/Empowerment Groups for CRPS/RSD and Chronic Illnesses/Pain in the Metro Atlanta area. A “fur mom” to two cats, Melissa is an avid volunteer and supports multiple organizations committed to rescuing animals and helping those with chronic illnesses/pain. She can be reached at mw2227@gmail.com.

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Authored by: Melissa Wardlaw

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Sandy Miller

I learned the hard way. Back to back surgeries and sent home with nothing for the pain. Ibuprofen is what i was told is protocol now. No more surgeries for me. Outraged! Not to mention my crps took me into a flare up!


Good article Melissa. I also love that you help our furry friends! I found out it is very hard to even get a lawyer to file a medical malpractice suit. I was overdosed when a fentanyl patch was put on me postop (which is against instructions per Duragesic I found out later). I almost died, coded and ended up in ICU with aspiration pneumonia. It was horrible and I was very ill. I also ended up with nerve damage after adhesion takedown. When I told a lawyer I almost died (my husband is the one who saved me by coming into room he said “well you didnt die”. No it just basically ruined my life as the pain is horrible from nerve damage and it cost me a small fortune, having another surgery to figure it out, medication, now on disability. This was the second botched surgery. Both times I had surgery was to alleviate pain and ended up so much worse. Meanwhile these doctors are probably living their best life while I get treated like the scum of the earth because I have chronic pain. I would like to forgive them and move on but its hard as they destroyed my body, ruined me financially, and impacted me in so many ways. Its affected my husband and family too. No one talks about the 400,000 medical errors made every year. Where is that crisis.

After spending the last 10 months in pain that every day I have wondered how any human body can endure without losing consciousness, I finally got referral to a pain management Clinic. It’s not what I wanted or asked for. I wanted testing to find out what is wrong. It just didn’t matter what I wanted, and have been forced into bowing down to the Almighty Doctors. Now I’ve been scheduled for epidural injections and am terrified, don’t want to do them but if I don’t, I have nowhere else to turn. I’m desperate to get at least some relief. What choice do I have? I have gone to different doctors, ER four times, surgeon who operated on my leg when I broke it The only thing I’ve successfully accomplished is gotten labeled as a drug seeker and Dr shopper. If I don’t get injections, I won’t be treated at all. Where do I go from here?

Debra Kurtz

Hi Melissa, I am sorry for your pain. I too am a chronic pain sufferer. I have nerve pain in the abdomen, fibromyalgia, pancreatic pain , etc. I am in pain all day and night. In May my pain doctor had cut my oxycodone in half to 2.5 MG every other day. I called many times and was treated very rude. When I saw him at my appointment he refused to give my medicine back. I have been calling and telling them that I had been in pain since May. I finally started to go through other options when I phoned their office and then the phone call was routed to their office. A couple were marked urgent. I left them a message on Friday and told them I need help. They have not called me yet. Am calling again tomorrow. My doctor does not care and is very cold. I do not know what to do. I am in pain all the time and he has not relieved it. I guess I am like so many people on here.

Maureen M.

Hi Melissa, Good to hear from you again. Great info!
As well as for me… I only wish I knew then what I know now. I too have spinal injuries from far too many injections. At one time I became paralyzed below the waist for about 16 hrs from receiving ’12’! Injections at one time!!
Also, I now believe I have developed Adhesive Arachnoiditis from having far too many injections over many years time.
I’ve also had 2 excruciating Myelograms and 4 failed major spine surgeries. My spine is now a disaster and my Chronic Pain levels are out of control.
I strongly believe that most doctors would not reveal if they have any poor history related to their treatments.
It’s been 5 yrs now since I have forever stopped all treatments, aside from my medications.
Thank you for the Ted Talk..I will be sure to watch it.
Keep strong Warrior! Maureen M.


Terri M Keller I don’t believe you’ll ever find a doctor that will give you patient information so you can conduct a review of their procedure. There are strict HIPPA laws that prevent this. You stated this I just wonder how it is possible DEA and steal people’s medical records to review their medical record for their pain management and why haven’t patients been suing DEA a gov office not doctors for looking over their medical records .That should be cause for patients to fight their witch hunt .

Bradley Hannah

I too had surgery which made my condition worse, I have had three knee replacements two on the right and one left. The left left me in pain and the Doctor reinjured my back so when I woke up I felt all the pain as no opioids, I couldnt tell which hurt worse my back or the knee that just got operated on It has been a year since the left ,when I drive it locks up and it takes a bit to bend it with bad pain. I am a victim of the medical business.

Kris Aaron

These are excellent questions and suggestions that should be asked of any physician prior to undergoing an invasive procedure! I’ve copied the article and will keep it with my medical history records and my Do Not Resuscitate form for future reference.
Sadly, we’re taught that doctors are highly skilled in whatever procedure they recommend to us — without knowing that we need to do due diligence on them. Even if we win a malpractice lawsuit that makes us independently wealthy, we’re still cursed with a lifetime of pain and disability that comes with a misguided diagnosis or ham-handed mistake by our physician.
Medicine is extremely complicated and difficult to understand. But we still need to do our very best to learn who and what is going to happen to us BEFORE submitting to a procedure. Some physicians object to being questioned by patients, but we will have to overcome our fear of “offending the expert” (something women tend to be plagued with more than men) and stand up for ourselves.
Our bodies aren’t cars that can be traded in on a better model when they refuse to run — we’re stuck with doctors’ mistakes and miscalculations for life. Even in the midst of dealing with unbearable pain, we need to toughen up and be savvy consumers who come prepared with hard questions for the medical providers we expect to heal us.

Terri M Keller

I don’t believe you’ll ever find a doctor that will give you patient information so you can conduct a review of their procedure. There are strict HIPPA laws that prevent this.