Definition and Overview
Surgical procedures performed on the head and neck are complicated, and require plenty of follow-up appointments for proper care and management. The head surgery follow-up is performed not only by the patient’s primary care physician, but also a number of specialists in key areas that might have been affected by the surgical intervention.
Follow-up appointments are essential in the recovery process and in ensuring that the disorders treated by the surgical procedure will not recur. Restoring normal function and mobility is a high priority for both the patient and the doctor.
There are five post-operative aspects that a doctor or specialist should consider after a patient’s surgery, namely:
Detect if the treatment has failed to address the patient’s initial concern, or in the case of brain, head, or neck cancers, if cancer has recurred or spread to other parts of the body;
Evaluate the results of the surgical procedure;
Detecting complications that developed due to the surgical procedure, and prescribing treatment to address such;
Prescribe guidelines for health maintenance, or referring the patient for rehabilitation and risk counseling; and
Provide emotional support in the event of psychological issues or physical disabilities after surgery and treatment.
The head and neck contain vital parts and systems that might be affected by the surgical procedure, and regularly checking their post-operative progress is a necessary and crucial step toward total recovery.
Possible complications and side effects that can affect the patient’s general health will also be closely monitored to prevent them from interfering with the recovery process.
Aside from prescribing medication and follow-up therapy to maximize the benefits of the head surgery procedure, the doctor performing the follow-up consultation will also provide the patient with information on home care guidelines.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
All patients who have undergone surgery for the brain, head, or neck should religiously go for follow-up care and consultation sessions as recommended by their primary care physician or specialist. The expected results of follow-up care are catching and treating complications early, maximizing the benefits of the surgical treatment, receiving medical and emotional support and ensuring general health after the surgery.
How is the Procedure Performed?
The period between the surgery and the first follow-up consultation will vary depending on the procedure performed, the health of the patient and the possible risks, complications and side effects expected by the specialist or the primary care physician. For example, patients who have undergone surgical treatment for brain, head, or neck cancers should come in for follow-up visits every month for the first year following the surgery, every two months for the second year, and every four months for the third year. This is to regularly monitor the patient for signs of cancer recurrence and prevent complications that cancer might cause in the long run.
The consultation typically begins with a brief review of the patient’s medical history, the specifics of the recent surgical procedure and the patient’s experience and concerns after the surgery. The doctor will then perform physical examinations and in some cases, order laboratory tests and imaging procedures to check the surgical site and surrounding areas.
Patients who have undergone surgical treatment for brain tumours will require specific physical examinations to monitor potential problems that are commonly linked to brain surgery. They will have to see a neurosurgeon or neurologist for these physical tests and brain scans (such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI). Possible complications that the doctors will watch out for include:
- Loss of vision
- General feelings of weakness in the body
- Impairment or loss of balance
- Memory loss
- Difficulty in performing complex tasks and making decisions
- Difficulty in speaking or forming words
In the event of brain surgery, the brain itself has the ability to heal itself over time. However, there are some patients who might be suffering from underlying conditions that can prevent this natural healing process to progress normally.
Another concern that is covered during the head surgery follow-up care is rehabilitation. The doctor, upon conferring with the patient, will prescribe follow-up care in a rehabilitation facility or at an outpatient therapy centre. The patient can also opt for home therapy, which involves therapists visiting the patient for hourly appointments two to three times a week.
Possible Risks and Complications
The follow-up care for head surgery is generally safe for the patient and is actually beneficial. However, possible risks and complications of the recent surgical procedure might affect the patient if he or she does not come in for regular visits with a specialist or a primary care physician.
- Gasco J, Mohanty A, Hanbali F, Patterson JT. Neurosurgery. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 68.