Majority of hospitals not meeting minimum volumes for high-risk surgeries, Leapfrog says

medical surgery
The majority of hospitals are electively performing high-risk surgical procedures without sufficient ongoing experience to safely do so, according to a new report. (Pixabay)

The majority of hospitals are electively performing high-risk surgical procedures without sufficient ongoing experience to safely do so, according to a new report.

The report from The Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital safety watchdog group, looked specifically at surgical volumes. The report, which relied on final hospital data from the 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Survey that had responses from more than 2,100 hospitals, also looked at the minimum standards those hospitals require surgeons to meet in order to gain privileges.

They were looking specifically at the safety of eight high-risk procedures identified by an expert panel as having a "strong volume-outcome relationship." The report also looks at whether hospitals are working to make sure every surgery is necessary. 

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According to the report, an increasing number of hospitals are meeting minimum volume standards if they perform high-risk hospitals. The majority of rural hospitals opt out of performing the high-risk surgeries because they can't meet the volume standards. Further, more hospitals are implementing protocols to monitor for appropriateness of surgeries.

“The good news is we are seeing progress on surgical safety. The bad news is the vast majority of hospitals performing these high-risk procedures are not meeting clear volume standards for safety," said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, in a statement. "This is very disturbing, as a mountain of studies show us that patient risk of complications or death is dramatically higher in low-volume operating rooms."

For instance, the report suggested hospitals should be performing a minimum of 20 esophageal resections for cancer and a minimum of 20 pancreatic resections for cancer to improve the odds of a safer surgery for their patients. Surgeons should perform at least seven and 10 of those procedures a year, respectively, to gain privileges.

But for those two procedures, only 3% and 8% of hospitals met the volume standards for patient safety, the report found.

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Hospitals were most likely to meet the safety standard of a minimum of 50 procedures a year for the hospital and 20 procedures a year for bariatric surgery for weight loss. More than 48% reported meeting that standard in 2019, up from 38% in 2018.

The survey found more than 70% of reporting hospitals have protocols to ensure appropriateness for cancer procedures.

But for other high-risk procedures evaluated such as open-heart surgeries or mitral valve repair and replacement, hospital compliance with ensuring appropriateness dropped to a range of 32% to 60%, depending on the procedure.