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What Is Elective Surgery?

I've heard the term "elective surgery," but I'm not sure what it means. Is it just a procedure that you choose to get, like a nose job?
- Heather

Though the name "elective" might imply that this type of surgery is optional, that's not always the case. An elective procedure is simply one that is planned in advance, rather than one that's done in an emergency situation.

A wide range of surgical procedures can be considered elective. Cosmetic surgeries fall into this category, but so can things like ear tubes, tonsillectomies, and scoliosis surgery. Although these procedures may be done "electively," they can be significant and potentially life-saving operations.

Another category is an urgent procedure. This is something that must be done that day or possibly the next day (for example, an appendectomy).

If your child is scheduled for elective surgery, you should receive instructions from your doctor about how to prepare and what to expect. You might consider asking questions such as:

  • Are there certain foods or activities my child should avoid before the operation?
  • Does my child need to take any special medicines before the operation, and should he or she continue taking regular medications up until the day of surgery?
  • What kind of anesthesia will my child receive?
  • Will he or she need to be on a breathing machine during or after the surgery?
  • How will my child feel after the operation? Will pain medication be needed?
  • How long does it take for most people to recover from this operation? Will my child need any rehabilitation?
  • How soon should we follow up with you after the operation?

An important point to remember is that your insurance company may have specific requirements about elective surgeries. It might only reimburse procedures performed by "in-network" providers or may require you to get a second opinion. You'll want to find out whether or not your insurance will cover the entire cost of the operation, the hospitalization, the prescriptions, and any other associated fees.

It's a good idea to call your insurance provider to check up on these things when you're in the early stages of planning elective surgery.

Reviewed by: Charles D. Vinocur, MD
Date reviewed: May 2012