What is Preoperative Care?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Preoperative care is care provided to prepare a patient for surgery. Nurses are typically the primary care providers, although an anesthesiologist can also be involved, and the surgeon usually checks in with the patient during preoperative care to go over the details of the surgery. The time frame can vary from weeks to minutes, depending on the circumstances surrounding the surgery.

When a surgery is planned, preoperative care includes meetings with the surgeon to talk about the procedure, and a meeting with the anesthesiologist to talk about anesthesia options. A care plan is developed for the patient and the patient also gets information about aftercare, healing time, and other issues. Blood is drawn to make sure the patient is in good physical condition. All of these aspects of preoperative care can take place well in advance.

On the day of the surgery, after abstaining from food and drink, the patient comes into the hospital and is prepared for the surgery. If the surgical site needs to be shaved, this will be done, and the site can also be washed in preparation for surgery. Intravenous lines are started to provide the patient with fluids and medications, as well as securing access to a vein for an emergency. Patients may be given anti-anxiety drugs to relax, and when it's time for surgery, the anesthesiologist induces anesthesia so the surgery can begin.


With emergency surgery, preoperative care is accelerated. Basic safety protocols still need to be followed, but the process may be collapsed into a span of minutes. As much information as possible about the patient will be gathered, with special attention to a history of drug interactions. The patient's blood is typed, and an assessment is performed to see what needs to be done in the surgical theater. For unstable patients, nurses and other medical personnel work to stabilize the patient to make it safe to perform surgery.

Rules about informed consent are sometimes bent or suspended in emergency procedures. Unconscious patients who have not been identified will be taken to surgery on the grounds that if they could consent, they would probably agree to lifesaving procedures. If family members, spouses, or guardians are present, they can give the consent for emergency surgery and any other lifesaving measures. Detailed overviews of the procedure, along with the risks and benefits may not be available, as sometimes surgeons do not know enough about the case until the patient has been opened up on the table.


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