It’s Complicated: ProPublica Surgeon Scorecard Gives Patients Doc Data”


Fairly recently one of Longmont’s most respected and popular family practice physicians said, in several forums, “You know, I’ve been a primary care doc in this town for 25 years and I’m afraid I can’t tell you, with any real certainly, who the best specialists in town are.”  Now – at least with regard to surgeons – he and everyone else can have a much better idea which physician to use for which procedure.
On Monday, CBS News shared a release called “It’s Complicated: ProPublica Surgeon Scorecard Gives Patients Doc Data”  about a publically available, free resource.  As stated on the Surgeon Scorecard website: 

“Guided by experts, ProPublica calculated death and complication rates for surgeons performing one of eight elective procedures in Medicare, carefully adjusting for differences in patient health, age and hospital quality. Use this database to know more about a surgeon before your operation.”
Focusing on outcomes for eight of the most common surgical procedures, the website allows users to search for a specific surgeon, search all surgeons at a given hospital (that do a threshold number of the specific type of surgery), or by zip code.  We found the results fascinating.

To be certain, measuring outcomes in healthcare can be a tricky business.  Risk factors and behaviors that vary from patient to patient certainly effect outcomes.  But surgical complication rates seems like a fair metric and ProPublica takes a number of reasonable steps to adjust for factors outside the surgeon’s control.  They specifically exclude trauma and other high-risk cases.  They also exclude procedures done on patients who came through emergency department from another healthcare facility.  Finally, they apply “accepted statistical methods to adjust for age, the health of each patient, luck, and the overall performance of each hospital.”

We’re encouraged by the availability of such a tool for use by patients.  We think it’s availability to the public, perhaps more than anything else, will ultimately reduce avoidable surgical complications.  As a physician friend of ours says, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Please check out the Surgeon Scorecard and consider sharing this free resource with your employees.