Procedure Versus Surgery: What's The Difference?

At best, a visit to the doctor will end with a little bandaging or a prescription. But in some cases, treating a health issue requires more extensive interventions. According to one 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the average American will have 3.41 inpatient, 2.56 outpatient, and 3.2 non-OR (not performed in an operating room) procedures by the age of 85.

Knowing what to expect and how to prepare often depends on the type of treatment you'll receive. For example, Stanford Medicine Healthcare suggests preparing for general surgery by not eating and drinking during a specified window of time, bathing before the appointment, and possibly taking an enema the night before. However, a less invasive procedure, such as getting a computed tomography (CT) scan, may require only brief fasting and wearing comfortable clothes (per Cleveland Clinic).

Guidelines will also depend on whether you will undergo a procedure or surgical operation. Here are the key differences and what to expect with each.

Procedures and surgeries aren't synonymous

If your doctor tells you that you must have a medical procedure done, you may be alarmed, assuming they're referring to surgery. However, a procedure and surgery are two very different things.

The experts at MedicineNet explain that surgery treats an injury or condition by "cutting, abrading, suturing, or otherwise physically changing body tissues and organs." Some common surgeries include appendectomy, tonsillectomy, breast biopsy, and c-section surgery (per Johns Hopkins Medicine). Even minor incisions and changes to tissue, such as mole removal, are considered a type of surgery, according to WebMD. Non-surgical procedures, on the other hand, require no cutting (per Better Health Channel). Instead, they can include tests, health exams, non-invasive treatments, and rehabilitation.

Surgery may seem more intimidating at first, but even simple procedures often come with their own set of risks and side effects. Keep in mind, some surgeries are minimally invasive to reduce pain, complications, and recovery time (per Mayo Clinic). With either type of treatment, discuss any concerns and questions with your doctor in advance so you can approach your procedure or surgery with confidence on appointment day.