Narrowing their focus to elective cases (typically low-incident procedures on healthier patients) in Medicare, ProPublica analyzed four years of data of surgical complication rates. This “surgeon scorecard” is publically accessible via a special database here, where patients can search for previous, current, or prospective surgeons and find their adjusted complication rate.“This is an exciting milestone towards ending medical harm”, says Lisa McGiffert, director of Safe Patient Project. “For the first time we are seeing that there is significant variation in the quality and safety outcomes of individual surgeons–a variation that can have devastating effects on surgical patients.”
The reasoning for this individual-oriented approach, ProPublica’s researchers say, is because while organizations such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are creeping towards public disclosure of certain hospital incident-rates, patients have no way of easily judging whether the particular health professional they are trusting their care to has a long-standing history of patient complications or not. “It’s not enough for hospitals to share doctors’ track records internally yet withhold this information from patients”, ProPublica states. Poorly performing surgeons can blend into the background of highly-rated hospitals, and patients could be increasing their change of medical harm by unwittingly receiving treatment from surgeons with double, or even triple the normal complication rate.
This report is an excellent development in the struggle for transparency within medical institutions. Providing patients with an arsenal of information about their treatment empowers them to make better decisions, and encourages surgeons to do their best work. When it comes to their own safety and medical care, patients are entitled to as much knowledge as they can get to make educated and informed choices in their own best interests. Through our work on the Docs on Probation campaign, the Safe Patient Project and our activists are fighting for consumer interests and their right to stay informed.