Want better surgeons? Poll their coworkers

Hospitals can improve patient outcomes, teamwork and surgeons' compliance with care quality standards using a performance assessment common among Fortune 500 companies, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Researchers, led by Alex B. Haynes, M.D., of Boston's Ariadne Labs, used the "360-degree" multisource feedback method for 385 surgeons across eight Harvard Medical School hospital surgical programs. They also collected feedback from nearly 3,000 nursing and surgical colleagues, employees and supervisors to help surgeons identify areas where the surgeons fell short of company goals for both technical and interpersonal and communication skills.

Department heads used multisource feedback to assess surgeon performance compared to standards of conduct in areas such as teamwork, service, respect and ethical discipline. A team of Harvard surgeons developed a questionnaire to assess surgeons, which they issued to every surgeon and 20-30 people familiar with their work. Haynes and his team found a mean score of 87.6 on the 11 standards, with service, humility and openness as the main drivers.

They also found that some surgeons modified their practices to improve their scores. A follow-up questionnaire found that more than 6 in 10 surgeons had altered their behavior due to the evaluation, and 60 percent of department heads reported improvement in surgeons' communication and professionalism.

"Many professionals do not get as much feedback about their performance as they would like," co-author Michael Berry, M.D., Ariadne's chief medical officer, said in a statement.

"This study shows that people are energized by the opportunity to turn a mirror on themselves and that 360-degree feedback is an effective tool for providing opportunities for self-evaluation and improvement."

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the statement