A quarter of heart surgeons ‘above average’ in updated ratings

Consumer Reports News: August 02, 2011 06:09 AM

Eighty-one of 323 surgical groups that perform heart bypass surgery got three stars (above average) in updated ratings published today by Consumer Reports and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. In addition, 237 got two stars (average) and 5 received one star (below average).

While several states require heart surgeons to report heart surgery data, many surgical groups—even some with just one star—voluntarily share that information with the public. Why? Because they know that ultimately translates into better care, as it helps surgeons identify the areas where they need to improve.

In fact, the willingness of surgeons to track their performance has led to some important improvements, including a dramatic reduction in mortality over the past 10 years. For example, the difference between the surgical group with the highest chance of patient survival (98.8 percent) and the lowest (96.9 percent) is so small that it’s practically indistinguishable, giving all of the groups an “average” survival rating.

Frederick L. Grover, M.D., chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora and an organizer of the STS National Database, says:

That doesn’t mean that average isn’t very good. It means everyone is doing an excellent job at preventing patient deaths.

However, there is still work to be done when it comes to complications. For example, the risk of developing a deep chest-bone infection at the incision site is now generally very low. But in some practices, up to 29 percent of patients experienced prolonged ventilation, which is risky because it increases a patient’s chance of developing pneumonia and other complications.

We also found significant variation on how well practices performed in prescribing recommended medications. While most were pretty good about giving anti-clotting medication after surgery, many didn’t prescribe beta-blockers beforehand to as many as half their patients.

For details, see the updated ratings of heart surgery groups including advice on what to do if the group you are considering isn’t included. And see our story on how to treat heart disease as well.

Joel Keehn

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