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The drive to cut readmissions after bariatric surgery continues with DROP project




SAN DIEGO – John Morton, MD, started his bariatric surgery career about the same time that demand for gastric bypass and other bariatric procedures began to skyrocket. But a troubling trend emerged.

“About 10-15 years ago, bariatric surgery had a problem when it came to mortality,” Dr. Morton said at the American College of Surgeons/National Surgical Quality Improvement Program National Conference. “You can’t move forward without looking back.”

Dr. John Morton Whitney McKnight/Frontline Medical News

Dr. John Morton

A 2005 study of early mortality among Medicare beneficiaries undergoing bariatric procedures found a 30-day mortality of 9% and a 1-year mortality of 21% (JAMA 2005 Oct. 19;294[15]:1903-8). Such data prompted Dr. Morton and other leaders in the field to push for accreditation in the field. In 2012, the ACS Bariatric Surgery Center Network program and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Bariatric Centers of Excellence program were extended accreditation in the joint Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP). As a result, the mortality rate among patients undergoing bariatric procedures has dropped nearly 10-fold and now stands at 1 out of 1,000, said Dr. Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford (Calif.) University. “That’s been a real success story for us,” he said. “Part of it has been the accreditation program, having the resources in place to accomplish those goals.”

Of the 802 participating centers in MBSAQIP, 647 are accredited. “One of the reasons we see such good results at accredited centers is the fact that they work as a multidisciplinary team, where you have the nutritionist, the psychologist, the internist, and the anesthesiologist working together,” said Dr. Morton, immediate past president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “When you have that team, it allows you to marshal your resources, do appropriate risk assessment, and get those processes in place to have the very best outcomes.”

In an effort to reduce hospital readmissions among bariatric surgery patients, MBSAQIP launched a national project called Decreasing Readmissions through Opportunities Provided (DROP), which currently has 129 participating hospitals. “If you drill down on the reasons for bariatric surgery readmissions, many are preventable: dehydration, nausea, medication side effects, and patient expectations,” Dr. Morton said. “I have a formula called the Morton Formula: happiness equals reality divided by expectations. If you set expectations accordingly, you’ll get a happier patient. If my patients know they’re going to be discharged in 1 day, they can plan accordingly.”

These concepts were adopted from a study that Dr. Morton and his associates carried out at Stanford Health Care in an effort to reduce readmissions for complications within 30 days to below the national average. It involved “straightforward” strategy including improving patient education, discharge planning, and giving patients a direct phone number to call. “Anybody who has called a health center and has had to go through that phone tree knows how difficult that can be, so we provide a direct number,” he said. “The postop phone call is critical, because that’s a way to nip readmissions in the bud. We do same-day appointments so they come and see us in the clinic rather than going to the ER and getting the enormous workup. Infusion centers are our best friend, because many of these patients come in dehydrated.”

After implementing these strategies, the rate of readmission for complications at Stanford fell from 8% to 2.5%. This led to the creation of a readmission bundle for the DROP project with steps for preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative aspects of care. For example, preoperatively, “we make sure that they have a postop appointment made [and] rather than waiting to give them a prescription when they get discharged, we make sure that they have those prescriptions earlier at the preoperative visit,” he said. “They are provided the clinic phone number and patients watch video vignettes from all members of the team: surgeon, nurse, nutritionist, pharmacist, and psychologist. Rather than the education being dependent on [the surgeon’s schedule], they can get the same dose of education and even watch these over and over again if they want to.”

Surgeons who participate in the DROP project also stratify high-risk patients by consulting with their primary care physicians and case managers to achieve optimal outcomes. They address modifiable risk factors. “Weight gain prior to bariatric surgery is not ideal, so we want to address that, and have a hemoglobin A1c of less than 10%,” Dr. Morton said. Patients receive a “HELP” card, which instructs them to contact the treating clinic if they have abdominal pain, dehydration, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.

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