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Health Team

Open heart surgery: Asking the right questions

Posted June 15, 2018 1:58 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2018 2:51 p.m. EDT

— Open heart surgery.

Those three words alone are hard to hear from your doctor, and when patients are told they need the procedure, that can raise several questions.

"They're going to open up your chest, and they are going to fix something in your heart while your heart has stopped," said Lauren Friedman, the health editor for Consumer Reports.

But it's a common surgery that is performed successfully hundreds of thousands of times a year in the U.S. The mortality rate is almost half of what it was just 28 years ago, but that's small comfort for patients who face the surgery.

Consumer Reports advises patients to ask the right questions of your cardiac surgeon so you can reduce fear and boost confidence:

Do I really need this surgery?

What are my other treatment options?

Dr. David Adams walks patients through how the heart works, what the recommended procedure will accomplish and why the patient needs the operation.

"I like to show them their actual anatomy and compare it to normal anatomy so they really understand what their disease is, and I think, when they understand that, I think a lot of the, sort of, fear leaves them," said Adams, cardiac surgeon-in-chief at Mount Sinai Health System.

Experts say it is appropriate to ask your doctor about their expertise and their track record of success with the type of surgery you need.

Said Friedman: "Those questions should be answered. You shouldn't get pushback, and if you do, that's a bit of a red flag."

Patients should also ask what happens after the procedure.

"How will I feel?" Friedman said. "Is there any special equipment that I need?

Patients should also look to connect with other people who have had the procedure and can share their personal experiences through the American Heart Association's support network.

Consumer Reports rated more than 500 hospitals on their outcomes with two common types of heart surgery.

For a look at those ratings: Click here