ItÊ's big surgery: Preoperative expressions of risk, responsibility, and commitment to treatment after high-risk operations

Kristen E. Pecanac, Jacqueline M. Kehler, Karen J. Brasel, Zara Cooper, Nicole M. Steffens, Martin F. McKneally, Margaret L. Schwarze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE:: To identify the processes, surgeons use to establish patient buy-in to postoperative treatments. BACKGROUND:: Surgeons generally believe they confirm the patientÊ's commitment to an operation and all ensuing postoperative care, before surgery. How surgeons get buy-in and whether patients participate in this agreement is unknown. METHODS:: We used purposive sampling to identify 3 surgeons from different subspecialties who routinely perform high-risk operations at each of 3 distinct medical centers (Toronto, Ontario; Boston, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin). We recorded preoperative conversations with 3 to 7 patients facing high-risk surgery with each surgeon (n = 48) and used content analysis to analyze each preoperative conversation inductively. RESULTS:: Surgeons conveyed the gravity of high-risk operations to patients by emphasizing the operation is "big surgery" and that a decision to proceed invoked a serious commitment for both the surgeon and the patient. Surgeons were frank about the potential for serious complications and the need for intensive care. They rarely discussed the use of prolonged life-supporting treatment, and patientsÊ' questions were primarily confined to logistic or technical concerns. Surgeons regularly proceeded through the conversation in a manner that suggested they believed buy-in was achieved, but this agreement was rarely forged explicitly. CONCLUSIONS:: Surgeons who perform high-risk operations communicate the risks of surgery and express their commitment to the patientÊ's survival. However, they rarely discuss prolonged life-supporting treatments explicitly and patients do not discuss their preferences. It is not possible to determine patientsÊ' desires for prolonged postoperative life support on the basis of these preoperative conversations alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-463
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • informed consent
  • life supporting treatments
  • postoperative care
  • surgical decision making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'ItÊ's big surgery: Preoperative expressions of risk, responsibility, and commitment to treatment after high-risk operations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this