Hospital use of minimally invasive surgery shows disparity in surgical care nationwide




The use of minimally invasive surgery for appendectomy, colectomy, hysterectomy, and lung lobectomy varies widely in the United States, even though the complication rates were lower from each procedure than with open surgery, results from a large retrospective study demonstrated.

"This study has important implications for quality improvement," researchers led by Dr. Martin A. Makary, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, wrote. "Based on our findings, many hospitals have an opportunity to decrease surgical complications by increasing utilization of minimally invasive surgery."

Photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Bendet, U.S. Air Force/ Wikimedia Commons

Doctors Ronald Post (left) and John Smear (center) and Physician's Assistant Debra Blackshire perform laparoscopic stomach surgery at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on Jan. 31, 2005.

To investigate the levels of variation in the use of minimally invasive surgery across the United States, Dr. Makary and his associates used the National Inpatient Sample database, which is administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, to evaluate hospitalizations at hospitals that performed at least 10 of these procedures in 2010. The sample included 1,051 hospitals in 45 states, and was limited to appendectomy, colectomy, hysterectomy, and lung lobectomy. The researchers used a propensity score model to calculate the predicted proportion of minimally invasive operations for each hospital based on patient characteristics. For each procedure, they categorized hospitals as low, medium, or high based on their actual to predicted proportion of minimally invasive surgery use (BMJ 2014;349:g4198).

On average, the use of minimally invasive surgery by the hospitals sampled was 71% for appendectomy, 28% for colectomy, 13% for hysterectomy, and 32% for lung lobectomy. Overall surgical complications for minimally invasive surgery, compared with open surgery, were, respectively, for appendectomy: 3.94% vs. 7.90% (P less than .001); colectomy: 13.8% vs. 35.8% (P less than .001); hysterectomy: 4.69% vs. 6.64% (P less than .001); and lung lobectomy: 17.1% vs. 25.4% (P less than .05). "In our analysis using Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality patient safety indicators for surgical care, we noted fewer wound, infectious, thrombotic, pulmonary, and mortality complications associated with minimally invasive surgery," the researchers wrote. "Based on our findings, increased hospital utilization of minimally invasive surgery at many U.S. hospitals represents a tremendous opportunity to prevent surgical site infection events."

The use of minimally invasive surgery was highly variable among the sampled hospitals. In fact, some never used minimally invasive surgery for some of the four procedures, while others used minimally invasive surgery for more than 75% of these procedures. Factors associated with the use of minimally invasive surgery were urban location, large hospital size, teaching hospital, and, for certain procedures, the hospital being located in the Midwest, South, or West.

"This [regional] disparity may be due to the broad range of surgical services some surgeons in rural areas are required to provide, and a scarcity of surgical specialists in such areas with advanced skills in minimally invasive surgery. Alternatively, the disparity may be a function of a lack of patient awareness about surgical options, decreased competition for patients, or a lack of minimally invasive surgery equipment, staff, or support in rural areas," the researchers wrote.

The findings of underutilization of minimally invasive surgery may also have something to do with a training gap.

"One reason that hospitals may be underperforming minimally invasive surgery is variability in appropriate training in residency and fellowship," Dr. Makary and his associates wrote. "One strategy that hospitals may consider in managing surgeons who cannot or choose not to acquire skills for performing minimally invasive surgery is to create a division of labor where patients who are not candidates for minimally invasive surgery are cared for by these surgeons. Increased standardization of competencies in minimally invasive surgery in surgical residency is needed to tackle wide variations in training."

The researchers acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including the fact that administrative claims data "can have incomplete coding, particularly of preexisting conditions," they wrote. "Another limitation is the lack of information available in the database for physician factors, such as laparoscopic training and experience that may influence the choice of procedure."

The researchers stated that they had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.

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