Modern medical innovations have changed a lot about how surgeries are performed. For many procedures, incisions are smaller, recovery times are shorter and the risks are lower. If you want to become a general surgeon – one of the highest paying medical specialties out there – then it’s very possible that not all of your surgeries will be performed in the operating room of a traditional hospital and followed by an overnight or multi-day hospital stay. Today’s general surgeons perform both inpatient and outpatient procedures.
Are All Surgeries Equal?
Surgeries are medical procedures that involve manual or instrumental manipulation, often through making some kind of incision in the epidermis to reach the organs, tissues, bones or nerves beneath the skin. Doctors may perform a surgery to help relieve pain, take care of a symptom, find or remove a problem or improve body function or appearance. Some surgeries are lifesaving, either in the sense of extracting a potentially dangerous cancer or immediately intervening in a medical emergency like a stroke, heart attack or internal bleeding.
Doctors perform surgeries on all parts of the body. While specialists in neurosurgery work on the brain, cardiologists on the heart and gastroenterologists on the digestive system, general surgeons perform numerous kinds of surgeries on different systems and organs.
The biggest difference between inpatient and outpatient surgery is the length of stay needed for the patient to recover. Generally, the more specialized, extensive or lengthy a procedure is, the more likely it is to be performed on an inpatient basis.
This means that general surgeons are more likely to perform procedures on an outpatient basis than, say, a neurosurgeon or cardiovascular surgeon, whose procedures are typically considered riskier and may require more extensive patient monitoring afterward. However, general surgeons perform more inpatient procedures than surgeons in specialties like cosmetic plastic surgery and dermatology.
To save on costs, some health insurance companies will only cover outpatient surgeries for certain procedures or may cover only part of the costs of an inpatient operation, leaving the patient on the hook for the remainder of the medical costs.
The Path to Recovery Through Inpatient Surgery
Any surgery that requires the patient to stay at the hospital overnight or longer is considered inpatient surgery. If this is a planned surgery, patients will typically need to make sure they have some supplies packed for their overnight stay. During the procedure, the patient will be cared for by a surgery team that is made up of the surgeon, surgical assistant, surgical technicians, operating room nurse, and an anesthesiologist.
After an inpatient surgery, a patient will be taken to a recovery room. Here, the patient will come out of the anesthesia, or the medication used to numb them during the procedure, and will be monitored until the anesthesiologist decides it is safe to move a patient to their room.
How long patients stay in the hospital after an inpatient procedure varies a great deal and depends on the surgical procedure being performed. Some patients stay overnight and go home the next morning. Others, such as a patient who is critically ill or injured, may remain in the hospital for weeks.
Patients are monitored during their stay and will be released from the hospital after the medical staffs determine that they can be safely discharged. The patient will be given discharge instructions on matters such as how to care for the wound, what follow-up care is needed and what symptoms could indicate an infection or another complication.
The longer a patient’s stay, the more costly the surgery could be overall. Hospitals try to balance making sure patients are ready to be discharged with avoiding hospital stays that are longer than necessary.
The Rise of Outpatient Surgery
Today, almost two-thirds of all operations fit into the category of outpatient surgery, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported. Also known as ambulatory surgery, outpatient surgery is any surgical procedure that doesn’t require an overnight hospital stay. Ambulatory surgeries are performed in outpatient facilities or in the physician’s office. After a brief stay in recovery at the medical facility where the operation was performed, patients are able to recover from the comfort of their own home.
There are other benefits to having outpatient surgery. Avoiding an overnight stay at the hospital costs the patient less, either outright if the patient is uninsured or in copayments and coinsurance costs if the patient has health insurance. In addition to the lower costs, outpatient surgeries can be easier to schedule since these procedures aren’t typically as involved and are easier to perform.
After outpatient surgery, the patient will need someone else to drive them home, since most people aren’t allowed to drive for 24 hours after surgery.