VA cuts post-surgical complications, deaths


After more than two years of grim news from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA finally has something to celebrate: risk of death or complications after surgery have dropped steeply.

Researchers, led by Nader Massarweh, M.D., of Baylor College of Medicine, analyzed data from more than 700,000 surgical patients treated at 143 VA facilities between 1999 and 2014, according to the study, which was published in JAMA Surgery. During that period, patients experiencing major complications after surgery fell from 10 percent to 7 percent. The proportional drop was even steeper for deaths as a result of post-surgical complications, which went from 24 percent to 15 percent over the same 15-year period.

"Our data in many ways mirror trends that we find in the private sector as well," Massarweh told Fox News. "Some of what we are seeing is probably the end result of underlying trends that have been occurring over time across all of healthcare relating to our ability to simply provide better care.”

However, Massarweh added, the results may also be partly the result of a 1990s-era quality initiative within the VA that tracks surgical outcomes to develop fixes for problems. One of the initiative’s major areas of concentration was reducing “failure to rescue,” or the death of a patient from postsurgical complications. The increased use of this measure within healthcare represents a more realistic, pragmatic view that acknowledges not all harms can be prevented, and that the secret to higher-quality care lies in working to minimize the long-term damage those harms do.