ProPublica releases surgeon complication rates based on Medicare data



The investigative journalism website ProPublica has released a “Surgeon Scorecard” to help patients research surgeons’ complication rates for elective operations, the organization announced July 13.

Based on an analysis of Medicare data, the database contains death and complication rates for about 17,000 surgeons performing one of eight elective procedures, including knee and hip replacement, lumbar spinal fusion, and prostate removal, among others. ProPublica used 5 years of Medicare data to compare surgeon performance, adjusting for factors such as patients’ age, health, and hospital quality.

Eleven percent of doctors accounted for about 25% of the complications, and hundreds of surgeons had rates double or even triple the national average, the report found. About 756 doctors who performed 50 or more operations in the time period did not record any complications, and about 1,423 surgeons had only one complication.

The results suggest that although rates were relatively low overall, ranging from 2% to 4%, “the typical surgeon’s rate can and should be significantly lower,” the authors said.

“Recent studies estimate that at least 200,000 patients a year die in hospitals from preventable errors and complications related to their care, which would make patient harm the nation’s third-leading cause of death.”

The analysis also shows that while choosing a “good” hospital is important, “it is much more important to pick the right surgeon” for an elective surgery, the report said.

View the Surgeon Scorecard and the related ProPublica story here.

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