Assertiveness Skills to Prepare for Back Surgery

The process of back surgery and postoperative recovery can bring up many stressful situations in which a patient's assertiveness skills will help him/her get good care. Some interesting findings underscore this point:

  1. In an extensive survey, only 42% of patients felt their doctor explained things well to them and just 31% believed that their physicians spent enough time with them
  2. A national study found that the average amount of time a general practitioner spends with a patient is 7 minutes per visit
  3. Another study found that most doctors interrupt their patients within the first 18 seconds of their symptom explanation
  4. One study determined that the average patient asks fewer than 4 questions in a fifteen-minute visit with the doctor (including one common question, "Will you validate my parking?")
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Preparation for Meeting with a Spine Surgeon

These findings suggest that patients may have to be assertive to be certain that their doctors understand their symptoms and that they get the information they need. Consider bringing a short list of questions to an appointment (for the doctor, support staff, or both) and having afamily member or friend come along.

Managing Stress to Prepare for Back Surgery

Being assertive may help patients cope with and protect themselves during the back surgery process, when it is important to adequately manage situations related to the work, home, hospital and other environments. Excessive stress in any of these areas may disrupt the surgery process. Important skills for successfully managing these environments include:

  • Setting priorities and sticking to them
  • Communicating openly about issues that concern you (e.g., asking doctors and nurses to wash their hands*)
  • Taking time out for relaxation
  • Delegating responsibilities
  • Pacing yourself
  • Setting appropriate limits

* On a national basis, the chance of getting an infection during a hospital stay is estimated to be between five and ten percent. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has found that a great majority of these hospital infections can be prevented through the use of accepted medical protocol (and common sense). In a review of 37 studies on hand washing, it was found that doctors and nurses typically wash their hands only 40 percent of time before seeing and examining a patient, even in intensive care units.

The information in this article is adapted from the book, Preparing for Surgery: A Mind-Body Approach to Enhance Healing and Recovery (Deardorff and Reeves, 1997).

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