Empowering Patients Online

Patients have another searchable online tool for choosing a physician, this one reporting complication rates for eight elective surgical procedures by individual physician. Many local surgeons can be found on the lists, which look at common elective surgeries, knee and hip replacements among them.

The surgeon scorecard is available online at ProPublica.org, a non-profit news agency. Propublica acquired Medicare billing records from 2009 through 2013 and then measured readmissions for 30 days following the surgery. Readmissions and deaths during that time counted as a complication, which was expressed as a percentage of the surgeon’s total volume.

Much is often said about hospitals and their safety ratings, but for elective surgeries, what really matters may be the surgeon. The information made available by Propublica can empower patients to make more informed decisions about the surgeon they select. The data can be sorted by surgery, area, hospital or surgeon.

“This type of complication data is not entirely new” says Dr. Heekin. “Medicare data has been available to patients for a long time, but not as readily and certainly not as well-organized”.

What is new is that these websites aim to provide patients and the medical community with transparency about the complication rates of individual surgeons as opposed to hospital systems. “It is certainly a valuable tool patients can use” says Dr. Heekin. He cautions however these scores are never 100%, and while Propublica employed a respectful process, there are many variables can affect these scores.

“Modern medicine is more quality-driven than ever before” says Dr. Heekin, Medical Director of St. Vincent’s Center of Excellence. He expects to see more transparency among hospitals and surgeons in the near future. “Transparency can be key to improving not just complication rates, but all aspects of patient care”, adds

Dr. Heekin. And that is a good thing- for everyone.