Surgical assessment calculators save millions of dollars, improve patient care

With patient outcomes an increasing driver of quality patient care--and a potential payment indicator in the future--the American College of Surgeons (ACS) recently launched a program that assesses the risk of surgeries on the colon and pancreas through the use of a calculator, and is designing similar tools for 18 other procedures, including gastric bypass, hernia repair and prostate surgery. While entering surgical complication risks into a calculator may seem simplistic, doing so has reduced complications to the tune of $3 million annually for hospitals participating in the program, reports the Wall Street Journal.

"If these results were translated across all U.S. hospitals, we would have the potential to prevent millions of complications a year, save potentially billions of dollars a year and provide evidence to health-care reformers that higher-quality care can cost less," said Clifford Ko, a colorectal surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of research and optimal patient care for ACS. 

ACS's quality-improvement plan was adapted from a program used by the Veterans Health Administration shown to reduce deaths at VA hospitals from surgery by 27 percent, and complications by 45 percent. A study published in the Annals of Surgery found that 118 hospitals involved in the program (outside the initial VA work) prevented between 262 and 524 complications per year, saving each hospital $3 million.

Given the cost of complications--estimated at between $12,000 and $35,000 per patient, or as much as $10 billion annually, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--the savings and patient outcome increases are staggering. There are more than 30 million operations performed annually in the United States, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which works with hospitals to improve the quality of care, estimates that 2.5 million to 3.5 million surgical patients each year experience unintended harm resulting from surgical care.

To learn more:
- read this Wall Street Journal article

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