Study shows surgery data may not be helpful for comparing hospitals

In recent years, the American College of Surgeons has encouraged hospitals to adopt its National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. This program is designed to help hospitals, many of which are being asked to do more with less, to improve patient outcomes and to prevent secondary injuries, such as post-surgical infections. According to the ACS, hospitals that implement its NSQIP can see significant improvements in patient care, including a reduction in the number of surgical errors, complications and deaths, all while reducing costs. The basic idea behind the NSQIP is to allow hospitals to track data about what factors are causing surgical complications.

While this sounds promising enough, a recent study - conducted by the National Institutes of Health and led by experts at the University of Michigan Health System - indicates that the data collected as part of the NSQIP is not, in fact, a useful measure of a hospital's performance.

As part of the study, which was published recently in the journal JAMA Surgery, researchers looked at data collected in 2009 regarding the incidence of complications and deaths for several commonly performed surgical procedures. In all, researchers examined data on over 55,000 patients who received care at 199 hospitals across the country. They discovered that the data was simply unreliable in helping to determine whether one hospital was more likely to offer a favorable outcome than another.

While the authors of the study praised the NSQIP for its efforts, they noted that the poor reliability ratings for the data collected creates several serious problems. More than anything else, hospitals that are performing poorly compared to other institutions could be led to believe that they are doing well. Likewise, hospitals that are performing well could be led to think that they are not.

At first glance, this may seem like an issue that should concern only hospitals and physicians. In reality, however, the lack of any reliable system for determining whether a hospital has better than average positive outcomes for a particular procedure has the potential to greatly impact patient care. Indeed, if a poorly performing hospital erroneously believes that its outcomes are better than national averages, it is not likely to take steps to improve.

Unfortunately, accidents happen even to the most well informed patients. If you have suffered an injury due to a surgical error or any other form of medical malpractice, it is important to speak to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.