High-risk surgery no longer risky business

Risky surgeries are less risky these days, according to a new study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System found that mortality rates for traditionally high-risk surgeries have fallen during the past decade, including, most notably, a 67 percent drop in deaths related to pancreatectomy, a 37 percent decline in cystectomy deaths and a 32 percent drop in esophagectomy mortality.

Researchers surveyed 3.2 million Medicare patients from 1999 to 2008, according to ScienceDaily.

Despite the risk normally associated with these types of procedures performed on elderly cancer and cardiac patients, the nationwide drop in mortality is good news. However, surgery outcomes vary by institution. Surgeries in high-volume hospitals tended to fare better, while lower-volume hospitals aren't performing high-risk surgeries as much, the study authors note.

"For a small number of complex cancer operations, referral to a high-volume hospital should continue to be encouraged," said Jonathan F. Finks, an assistant professor of surgery at University of Michigan Health Systems, in a Health Day article. "With most complex operations, however, other quality improvement strategies are likely to be more effective than simple referral to a high-volume center," he said.

In addition to standardized quality improvement efforts, another factor is advances in minimally invasive medicine.

For more:
- here's the New England Journal of Medicine study
- check out the Health Day article
- read the ScienceDaily story