Many medical procedures (which are less or more necessary) like LASIK, joint replacement, tonsillectomy or gallbladder removal are described for patients as very safe (usually with a high number of successful previous procedures taken around the world).

Are there concrete standard for the safety of such procedures? Number of deaths, for example, is not enough. A scale of severity of side effects would be more the direction.


I hoped for something like the Injury Severity Score but it seems that there isn't. I understand the subjectivity of this question. But is there a way to classify medical procedures in a way so that a man that undergone a gallbladder removal will know that tonsillectomy is easier b/c the recovery is usually shorter + the probability of hematoma is lower etc? Or maybe the side effects vary so much that there is no way to compare procedures which are not very similar(e.g. one in dentistry and on in gastro).

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    This isn’t really feasible, as the assessment of side effects is really subjective. Pain toleration, mobility, morbidity is something each of us values differently.
    – Narusan
    Feb 13 '19 at 18:51
  • Re: the edit, I'm not sure how comparing a tonsillectomy to a cholecystectomy would help anyone make a decision or better conceptualize their risk. You'd be comparing a surgery that is appropriate for a patient and for which they can expect to derive a benefit to an unnecessary surgery.
    – De Novo
    Feb 13 '19 at 22:43
  • In the case where an individual has already had one surgery, saying "this cholecystectomy is 1.8 times more dangerous than the tonsillectomy you had when you were a child" is also not helpful. Having gone through the tonsillectomy, the patient's sense of the possible outcomes is both fixed and remote.
    – De Novo
    Feb 13 '19 at 22:45
  • Now these comparisons are used as shorthand in some cases, but I discourage it. I do not think it is at all helpful to tell someone "this ambulatory procedure is no worse than getting your wisdom teeth pulled". There's no data showing that helps patients understand anything. It's a shortcut, to try to quickly get a signature on paper and move on to the next patient.
    – De Novo
    Feb 13 '19 at 22:48
  • Everything you say makes sense. Thanks.
    – OMGsh
    Feb 14 '19 at 15:49

No. There is not a set standard for the safety of medical procedures. The risks of procedures varies and is balanced against the potential benefits of the procedure (which will also vary). Unlike medications or devices, procedures themselves are not subject to approval by a regulatory authority. The professional ethical standard here is informed consent, that is, the patient must be informed of the risks and potential benefits of a procedure. After understanding and considering these risks and benefits, the patient consents. Informed consent as a process should occur for any treatment, but clear documentation is required for surgical procedures.

Some of these issues are discussed here.

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