Bad Surgical Outcomes Tied to Inexperienced Surgeons and Hospitals

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Before undergoing an operation that is deemed risky, a good idea is to find out first how often that hospital has performed that surgery.  According to new data, many times hospitals and their surgeons aren’t adequately experienced in the procedure, and surgical patients suffer.

It makes sense that there is a link between bad outcomes from risky surgeries and how often  facilities and surgeons perform them.  That’s exactly what the Leapfrog Group – a national not-for-profit organization devoted to making healthcare safer – found when researching the issue.

Leapfrog annually grades hospitals across the country for patient safety. As part of the most recent grading effort, the organization identified eight high-risk surgeries and asked hospitals how many times they performed them and what steps they took to ensure the safety of their patients undergoing their procedures.

High-Risk Surgeries

The high-risk surgeries were:

  • Bariatric weight loss surgery
  • Carotid endarterectomy (treating arteries clogged with plaque)
  • Removing cancer from the esophagus
  • Removing cancer from the lungs
  • Mitral valve repair and replacement
  • Open abdominal aortic aneurysm repair
  • Pancreatic resection for cancer
  • Rectal cancer surgery

Leapfrog established a board of surgical experts that determined minimum annual volume  standards for each of these procedures that hospitals are surgeons should meet to ensure they have the expertise to safely operate.  The yearly volume standards ranged from 50 operations for hospitals and 20 for surgeons for the weight loss procedure, to 16 and six for rectal cancer surgery.

Hospitals’ Inexperience with Certain Operations

Less than four in 10 hospitals (38 percent) met the minimum standards for the weight loss surgery.   But that was the highest rate for having adequate surgical experience.

Just under 3 percent of the hospitals met the annual volume thresholds for abdominal aortic aneurysm repair and about the same low percentage were safely experienced in the esophageal cancer surgery.

About 2,000 hospitals were included in the survey.

The inexperience of surgeons performing risky operations varied widely as well. A bit more than half of the surgeons met Leapfrog’s appropriate experience level for weight loss surgery.  Only 17 percent had adequate experience, per the Leapfrog standards, for lung cancer surgery.

Leapfrog also asked hospitals if they routinely took steps to ensure these risky surgeries were even appropriate or needed. When the need for risky surgeries is questionable, patients can be unnecessarily exposed to serious errors and serious harm.

Only 45 percent of the hospitals had protocols in place to make sure the weight loss surgery was necessary and patient-appropriate.  That was the highest percentage.  The next highest percentage was 32.6 percent – for mitral valve repair and replacement. At the bottom were 25.6 percent of hospitals that routinely ensured that the abdominal aortic aneurysm repair procedure was medically necessary.

Leapfrog found that rural hospitals were much less experienced in conducting these risky procedures than urban facilities.  Zero rural hospitals had acceptable volume standards for five of the eight procedures.

Leapfrog points to a previous US News & World Report examination of risky surgeries that estimated 11,000 surgery-related deaths could have been avoided over a three-year period if the patients had gone to higher-volume hospitals rather than less experienced facilities. The organization notes that surgical teams simply can’t safely maintain their skills and knowledge at low-volume hospitals.

While a good idea, it’s not the patient’s burden to confirm the safety track-record of the facility and the surgical team. Hospitals and surgeons have the ultimate responsibility to establish protocols and possess adequate experience to ensure the safety of their patients.

If you or a loved one had any procedure – risky or otherwise – and were severely hurt as a result of a surgical error, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to investigate what went wrong and why.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles July 26, 2019

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