Patient and Doctor Making a heart

What to Do If You’ve Been Told You Need Surgery

If you’re a patient, there’s no such thing as ‘routine surgery.’ All surgical procedures, ranging from common surgeries like the removal of your appendix or wisdom teeth, to a C-section or complex heart bypass operation, contain some risk. Even though your medical team has your best interests at heart, it’s natural to be scared if you’re told you need surgery. In most cases the surgery is elective – that is, it’s not an emergency and even if it's a lifesaving surgery – you still have the option of getting a second opinion or even refusing.

If you’ve been told you need surgery and aren’t sure if it’s the right option, this information can help you make the right choice.

Ask the Right Questions

Doctor Talking with Patient

A good doctor will want their patients to feel comfortable. Now is the time to take an active role in your health. It’s part of your doctor’s job to listen to you and provide honest answers to your questions, especially when it comes to making choices about your care.

  1. Why is the operation being recommended?
  2. What other treatments are available?
  3. What are the benefits and how long will they last?
  4. What are the potential complications?
  5. What happens if I decide to delay the surgery?
  6. How will I be affected if I refuse the surgery?
  7. How many of these surgeries have you performed?

If possible, ask the doctor or their staff to put the answers in writing. Make sure you can understand what you’re being told. You always have the right to have a family member, interpreter, or other trusted individual with you at this appointment.

Find Out About Costs and Coverage

Doctor Writing a Prescription

Make sure the surgery is covered by your health plan and ask if they can tell you how much you could expect to pay (both overall and out-of-pocket), what affects those charges, and how much they could differ. Depending on your plan, it should be easy to see another doctor for a second opinion. To avoid unexpected charges, verify with your insurance customer service first.

Get a Second Opinion

Woman Talking to a Female Doctor

Even though doctors go through years of schooling and training, many medical issues aren’t black and white, and there can be many treatments available. Two doctors can often see things differently, which is why a second opinion is important.

As mentioned above, your first step should be checking with your health plan. If possible, see a doctor at another hospital or health system (if it’s covered) – you may benefit by seeing someone with completely different training and experience.

Before your second opinion, get copies of all of the documents, scans, X-rays, and appointment notes relating to your condition. Even if your doctor’s office offers to email or fax the documents, your best bet is to get hard copies and carry them with you to your visit. That way the new doctor has all of the information and won’t need to send you for additional tests. This will save you time and money.

Research the Surgeon

Senior Man Studying on Computer

You’ve already asked questions about the surgery; now it’s time to learn more about the doctor performing your surgeon. Start by asking your primary care physician for their opinion. You can also learn a lot by searching online. No, there’s still not a Yelp for doctors, but sites like HealthGrades and AMA Doctor Finder have important information about board certification, years of experience, hospital ratings, sanctions and malpractice, and all the other information you need to make an informed decision.

Ask for an Advocate

Depending on your condition, you may qualify for an advocate or other services through your hospital or your health coverage plan. In some cases, an advocate can provide you with a list of surgeons in your area, as well as general information about your treatment options. Advocates may also be able to coordinate after-care, such as necessary prescriptions, transportation home, follow-up visits, and occupational or physical therapy. Services vary by hospital and plan; talk to your doctor and your insurance customer service to learn more.

Once You’ve Made Your Decision, Let It Go and Start Getting Ready

Patient in Wheelchair and Her Physician

Managing a chronic condition, injury, or illness can be a big source of stress. Concentrate on the fact that you’ve done your homework and made a decision to improve your life. Try to remain positive and stay committed to your health. You may even take time to revisit some long-term health goals – for example, getting to a healthy weight or quitting smoking, both of which can greatly improve your odds for a successful health outcome.

Also, get your home ready for your release, especially if you expect to be mobility-challenged for a while. Make sure you have plenty of supplies on hand, including your medications, meals that don’t require much preparation, medical equipment you may needs (crutches, a walker, bandages or dressings, a raised toilet seat), and items of convenience and comfort, like tissues, slippers, heating pads, entertainment, or even a handy grabber stick. Relax and don’t rush your recovery – you’ve only got one chance to get it right!

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See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

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Ambulance arriving to ER

When to Visit your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the ER

When you or a loved one is sick or injured, you may not be sure whether to see your primary care doctor, visit urgent care, or go to the emergency room (ER).

We want to help you make the best decision based on your insurance coverage, what you may have to pay out of pocket, and whether the site you visit has the resources to help with your situation. If you have questions about where to seek care, call us at 888-499-9303.

When to See Your Primary Care Doctor

Man Looking At A Data Board


If the situation is not an emergency and it is during regular office hours, visiting your primary care doctor is the best option. Your doctor knows you, your medical history, and what medications you take. Having an existing relationship with the doctor may also make it easier for them to fit you in quickly.

Your primary care doctor is the best call for:

  • Skin conditions
  • A cold, the flu, a cough, or a sore throat
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Digestive troubles
  • Sinus pain
  • Vomiting

If you have private insurance, seeing your primary care doctor is also the friendliest choice for your wallet because your co-pay will be less expensive than a trip to the ER. If you don’t currently have a primary care doctor, use our tool to find a doctor who speaks your language and is close to your work or home.

When to Visit Urgent Care

Woman and Her Child in a Doctors Appointment

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, more than 88 million people visit urgent care centers each year.

If your illness or injury is not an emergency, your primary care doctor’s office is closed (nights, weekends, holidays), and/or you believe the situation cannot wait, urgent care is your best option. Urgent care centers have the equipment to handle severe but non-emergency situations.

Urgent care centers are the best call for conditions that include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Broken bones that have not broken the skin
  • Minor cuts or rashes
  • Animal bites
  • High fevers
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary infections

With private insurance, visiting an urgent care center will cost you more than seeing your regular doctor, but can save you hundreds of dollars (or more) over an ER visit. Make sure that the urgent care center you visit is in your plan’s network to avoid additional charges.

We have a network of AltaMed and affiliated urgent care centers throughout Southern California. Find one near you now.

When to Go to the ER

Child Receiving Medical Help for Broken Leg

The emergency room is for real medical emergencies—the staff and equipment are there to provide life-saving care for extreme cases. For severe medical situations, you can call 911 or visit an emergency room. Most hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The ER is the correct destination if you or a loved one is experiencing:

  • A severe injury or major trauma, including a severe cut or burn
  • Overdose
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A seizure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • A head injury
  • Broken bones that puncture the skin
  • Heavy bleeding

Depending on what kind of insurance you have, a trip to the ER can cost you thousands of dollars, so be sure to reserve these visits for real emergencies. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, do not hesitate! Go to the ER.

One Last Note About Medical Treatment Options

Doctor Taking Care of a Man With an Injured Hand

Obviously, if you have a severe cut, are bleeding, or you are suffering a significant bodily injury, GET TO THE ER, STAT! But if you need help figuring out the right place to go for treatment, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303.

Remember that your primary care doctor should always be your first call—they know you best and will ensure that your care is consistent. Leave urgent care and the ER for those times when you are experiencing more serious difficulties or emergencies.

Latin Family

Grow Healthy with Complete Care from AltaMed

AltaMed was established in 1969 – in a much different form than what you know today.

AltaMed President and CEO Cástulo de la Rocha remembered seeing the only health clinic in his neighborhood with lines around the block and knew there had to be a better way for people to get the care they need. And from humble beginnings as the East LA Barrio Free Clinic, AltaMed has continued to grow, adding more coverage and services to serve more people.

Even though we’ve grown from one location to more than 30 health centers throughout Southern California, and have a large network that includes top doctors, some things haven’t changed. We’re still committed to bringing personal, modern care to members of communities that previously haven’t had many options for health services. We staff our facilities with compassionate doctors and staff who speak your language and understand your culture. And we believe that for communities to grow healthy, we need to advocate for services and resources beyond health care.

Take a look at some of our core services, then call and make an appointment at (888) 499-9303.

Primary Care

Female Doctor and Nurse Talking

Seeing a primary care physician is the first step of your journey to good health. Go to your primary care doctor for routine health screenings and immunizations. And, if you think you may be sick or something is wrong, they can help you get the care you need, even if they have to refer you to a specialist.

We want you to feel comfortable seeing your primary care doctor, which is why we have bilingual doctors and staff. With our doctor finder tool, you can even search for a doctor based on their gender and location. We want nothing to come between you and the care you need.

Women’s Health Care

Doctor and Nurse Talking to a Senior Woman

Women have unique health care needs. For a variety of reasons, they are also more likely to suffer heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and even some mental health conditions. That’s why they need doctors who understand what it takes to keep them mentally and physically healthy – like the caring doctors who are part of AltaMed Women’s Health Services.

We offer care and services for every stage of a women’s life, including mammograms, family planning, reproductive health, and more. Make an appointment today to learn about age-appropriate screenings – they could save your life!


Pediatrician Checking a Girl’s Hear

Your kids depend on you to keep them healthy, and you can depend on AltaMed. Bring your child to see our pediatricians for routine visits. We also offer immunizations that may be available to you and your child for free.

Behavioral Services

Psychologist in a Consultation With an Senior Man

Life has its ups and downs, and it’s normal to feel sad or anxious once in a while. But if you frequently feel depressed, angry, or like you need to drink or take drugs to cope, it’s time to see a professional. Our compassionate Behavioral Health team can make sure you get the treatment you need. It’s completely confidential, and we can help you get on the road to feeling like yourself again.

AltaMed PACE

Senior People in Pace Dining Room

As we age, it’s normal to need a little extra care. For seniors with complex medical needs who aren’t ready for assisted living, AltaMed PACE can help keep them healthy and independent at home. AltaMed PACE is the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, and it includes coordinated medical care, social services, transportation, and meals, all in a friendly neighborhood setting that seniors (and caregivers) love. Some seniors may even qualify for more assistance at home. AltaMed PACE may be covered at 100% for Medicare-eligible seniors. Contact us to learn more (877) 499-9303.

Dental Services

Woman at Dentistry Room

We want to help you keep your teeth healthy and bright for life! That means starting early and getting regular checkups, X-rays, and cleanings.

Bring your entire family to AltaMed for dental services. Kids should start seeing the dentist within six months of developing their first tooth. By visiting the dentist twice a year, as recommended by the American Dental Association, you may be able to keep your teeth for your whole life! Other services include fillings, root canals, crowns, and emergency dentistry.

HIV/AIDS Care and Prevention

Men Holding the Pride Flag

There are more ways than ever to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. But that doesn’t mean we can give up the fight! We’re dedicated to providing the resources our members need to protect their status and stay healthy, including rapid testing, prevention, and educational services.

For those who are HIV positive, we take a whole-person approach to care. We support our members and their loved ones with a full range of services, such as pharmacy, primary care, behavioral health, and care management.

Get Started with AltaMed!

Doctor Hugging Young Girl

There’s so much we can do to help you grow healthy – and it all starts with an appointment. We accept many different health plans, including Medicare, Medi-cal, and many commercial plans. If you’d like to learn more about your health plan options, we can help with that, too. We look forward to seeing you and helping you live a long, healthy life.

What to Do If You’ve Been Told You Need Surgery