American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

A Watershed Moment for Health Care Accountability

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If you’ve ever tried to find consumer ratings for a surgeon the way you might compare plumbers or car mechanics, you know that the information is almost impossible to find. How many patients survive surgery? How many went home with complications? Performance data for surgeons or surgical groups–or hospitals, for that matter–when it exists at all–hasn’t been available to the public. That’s starting to change. On today’s show, we talk with Dr. Dave Shahian from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The society of heart and lung specialists recently released performance data for the first time in what some are calling a “watershed moment” for health care accountability. The resulting ratings of surgical groups are currently available in the most recent issue of Consumer Reports and on the magazine’s website. Later in the show, we’ll speak with John Santa. He’s the director of Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

Listen to this episode.

Segment 1: Pulling Back the Curtain (1:00 - 16:28)
Guest: Dr. David Shahian, Chair of Society of Thoracic Surgeons' Quality Management Taskforce

If you need heart bypass surgery, would it help to know that one surgical group has a 24-percent chance of providing recommended drugs when you leave the hospital versus another surgical group that provides the drugs 92 percent of the time?

Thanks to data released by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, it's possible to compare surgical groups for the very first time. The ratings of 221 surgical groups - but not individual surgeons - from 42 states are currently available to subscribers of Consumer Reports on the magazine's website. The information will be available to the public on the Society's website in a couple of months. The scores assigned by Consumer Reports are based on complication and survival rates, whether the groups used the best surgical technique and whether patients are sent home with medicine that has been proven to be beneficial after heart surgery. Surgical groups were assigned a rating of one to three stars - above average, average, or below average.

This publication of surgical group ratings is a significant first step toward industry transparency; but it's a tentative one. Of the thousand-plus cardiac surgery groups in the country, 90 percent submit performance data to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons; but only about a quarter of them allowed their results to be published. And only five of the 221 surgical groups reviewed by Consumer Reports received a below average rating.

Even before their decision to allow the publication of surgical group ratings, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) had earned a reputation as an industry leader in the collection of performance and outcomes data. It's been tracking its member surgeons' performance for over 20 years.

Segment 2: The Reputation (16:30 - 29:00)
Guest: Dr. John Santa. Director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center

According to Dave Shahian, it was the reputation of Consumer Reports that allowed the Society of Thoracic Surgeons to make its groundbreaking release of performance data. We wanted to take a look behind the scenes at the magazine, so we invited John Santa to join us. Dr. Santa is the Director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center in Yonkers, NY.