Black women undergoing hysterectomies were significantly more likely to be treated by low-volume surgeons than high-volume surgeons, and to experience perioperative complications as a result, based on data from more than 300,000 patients.
“Outcomes for hysterectomy, for both benign and malignant disease, are improved when the procedure is performed at high-volume hospitals and by high-volume surgeons,” Anne Knisely, MD, of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues wrote.
Historically, Black patients have been less likely to be referred to high-volume hospitals, the researchers noted. Recent efforts to regionalize surgical procedures to high-volume hospitals aim to reduce disparities and improve care for all patients, but the data on disparities in care within high-volume hospitals are limited, they said.
In a study published in, the researchers identified 300,586 women who underwent hysterectomy in New York state between 2000 and 2014. The researchers divided surgeons at these hospitals into volume groups based on average annual hysterectomy volume.
The women were treated by 5,505 surgeons at 59 hospitals. Overall, Black women comprised significantly more of the patients treated by low-volume surgeons compared with high-volume surgeons (19.4% vs. 14.3%; adjusted odds ratio, 1.26), and more women treated by low-volume surgeons had Medicare insurance compared with those treated by high-volume surgeons (20.6% vs. 14.5%; aOR, 1.22).
A majority of the patients (262,005 patients) were treated by a total of 1,377 high-volume surgeons, while 2,105 low-volume surgeons treated 2,900 patients. Abdominal hysterectomies accounted for 57.5% of the procedures, followed by laparoscopic (23.9%), vaginal (13.2%), and robotic assisted (5.3%). Approximately two-thirds (64.4%) of the patients were aged 40-59 years; 63.7% were White, 15.1% were Black, and 8.5% were Hispanic.
The overall complication rate was significantly higher in patients treated by low-volume surgeons, compared with high-volume surgeons (31.0% vs. 10.3%), including intraoperative complications, surgical-site complications, medical complications, and transfusions. The perioperative mortality rate also was significantly higher for patients of low-volume surgeons compared with high-volume surgeons (2.2% vs. 0.2%).
Low-volume surgeons were more likely to perform urgent or emergent procedures, compared with high-volume surgeons (26.1% vs 6.4%), and to perform abdominal hysterectomy versus minimally invasive hysterectomy compared with high-volume surgeons (77.8% vs. 54.7%), the researchers added.
The study findings were limited by several factors, including the observational design and possible undercoding of outcomes, inclusion only of New York state patients, lack of data on clinical characteristics such as surgical history and complexity, lack of data on surgeon characteristics, and changing practice patterns over time, the researchers noted.
However, “this study demonstrates increased perioperative morbidity and mortality for patients who underwent hysterectomy by low-volume surgeons, in comparison with high-volume surgeons, at high-volume hospitals,” and that Black patients were more likely to be treated by low-volume surgeons, they said. “Although centralization of complex surgical care to higher-volume hospitals may have benefit, there are additional surgeon-level factors that must be considered to address disparities in access to high-quality care for patients undergoing hysterectomy.”
Explore range of issues to improve access
“It is always beneficial to review morbidity and mortality statistics,” Constance Bohon, MD, a gynecologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., said in an interview. “With a heightened awareness of equity and equality, now is a good time to review the data with that focus in mind. Hospital committees review the data on a regular basis, but they may not have looked closely at demographics in the past.
“It was always my understanding that for many procedures, including surgery, volume impacts outcome, so the finding that low-volume surgeons had worse outcomes than high-volume surgeons was not particularly surprising,” said Dr. Bohon. However, the question of how hospitals might address disparities in access to high-volume surgeons “is a difficult question, because there are a variety of issues that may not be caused by disparities,” she added. “It may be that the high-volume surgeons do not take Medicare. It may be that some of the emergent/urgent surgeries come from patients seen in the ED and the high-volume surgeons may not take call or see new patients in the ED. There may be a difference in the preop testing done that may be more extensive with the high-volume surgeons as compared with the low-volume surgeons. It may be that it is easier to get an appointment with a low-volume rather than a high-volume surgeon.
“Additional research is needed to determine whether there is an algorithm that can be created to determine risk for morbidity or mortality based on factors such as the number of years in practice, the number of hysterectomies per year, and the age of the physician,” Dr. Bohon explained. “The patient data could include preexisting risk factors such as weight, preexisting medical conditions, prior surgeries, and current medications, along with demographics. It would be interesting to determine whether low-risk patients have similar outcomes with low- as compared with high-volume surgeons while high-risk patients do not. The demographics could then be evaluated to determine if disparities exist for both low- and high-risk patients.”
The study received no outside funding. One coauthor disclosed serving as a consultant for Clovis Oncology, receiving research funding from Merck, and receiving royalties from UpToDate. Lead author Dr. Knisely had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Bohon had no financial conflicts to disclose, but serves on the Ob.Gyn. News editorial advisory board.