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Elective Surgery


Also called non-urgent, time-sensitive surgery

When kids and teens need surgery, the procedure can be:

  • urgent or emergency surgery: These are surgeries done for urgent, possibly life-threatening medical conditions, such as a serious injuries from an accident, testicular torsion, or acute appendicitis.
  • elective surgery: These are procedures that patients need, but they don't have to be done right away. Calling a surgery "elective" might make it sound optional, but that's not always so. An elective procedure is planned in advance, unlike an emergency surgery.

What Are Common Elective Surgeries?

A wide range of surgical procedures can be elective, such as:

While these surgeries done "electively," they're often important and potentially life-changing operations. Some are "same-day" surgeries that don't need a hospital stay. Kids can go home the same day after a brief recovery period. For other surgeries, kids might need to stay in the hospital overnight or for a little longer.

What Should I Do if My Child Needs Elective Surgery?

Elective surgery means you and the doctor decide (elect) when it will happen. So you have time to plan ahead.

If your child is scheduled for elective surgery, the care team will give you instructions about how to prepare and what to expect. If you have any questions, be sure to ask. You'll want to know:

  • Should my child avoid any activities or foods before surgery? How many hours before the operation should my child stop eating and drinking?
  • Does my child need to take any special medicines before surgery?
  • Should my child stop taking any medicines or vitamins?
  • What kind of anesthesia will my child get?
  • Will my child be on a breathing machine during or after the surgery?
  • How will my child feel after the operation? Will they need pain medicine?
  • How long does it take for most people to recover from this operation?
  • Will my child be in the hospital overnight? If so, can I stay with my child?
  • Will my child need any rehabilitation (for example, physical therapy)?
  • How soon should we follow up with you after surgery?

After talking with the surgeon and getting your questions answered, you'll sign forms giving your permission for the surgery. This is called "informed consent." It means that you understand what's involved with the surgical procedure and agree to it.

You'll want to get answers on insurance too. As soon as you know your child needs surgery, call your insurance company. Find out if you need to get a second opinion from another health care provider before they will approve the surgery.

Your insurance company might require you to use in-network providers. If so, be sure that:

  • Your child's surgeon is in-network.
  • The anesthesiologist (the fee for anesthesia usually is separate from the cost of the surgery) is in-network.
  • Hospital stays and prescriptions, if needed, are covered. Is there a co-pay?
  • If needed, you can make a payment plan.

What if the Surgery Is Delayed Because of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, some states banned elective surgeries. This helped save scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care providers. They need it to care for sick patients and to do emergency procedures.

As restrictions ease, some health care systems are using a ratings score to decide which surgeries to do first when rescheduling. The ratings consider things like:

  • how effective non-surgical treatment options are
  • how not having the surgery might affect the patient
  • which surgeries might use a lot of the hospital's supplies and other resources
  • which patients are least likely to need an overnight hospital stay

If your child's procedure is delayed, ask what might help in the meantime. For example, physical therapy, braces and wraps, and anti-inflammatory medicines might help kids with sports injuries.

Reassure your child that the delay is temporary. As soon as they can, doctors and hospitals will reschedule elective surgeries for the people who need them.

Reviewed by: Loren Berman, MD
Date reviewed: May 2020