Need Surgery? Pick the Right Hospital

When your doctor says you need surgery, ask to go to a hospital that does a high volume of the procedure you’ll need. You’re more likely to live and avoid major complications.

There are lots of research articles on this, but one study of 29,000 patients who hasurgery 12.29.15d total hip or total knee replacement tells the story well. Published in  Arthritis & Rheumatism, the researchers found that at hospitals that did fewer than 200 of the procedures a year, patients were more likely to die within a year after surgery or get a serious side effect (venous thromboembolism, or a blood clot in a vein) within 30 days of surgery than were those treated in a hospital that did a high volume of the cases.

Why? It’s not clear. It could be related to hospital systems and procedures, lack of prevention, how people are educated and cared for before and after surgery, and other factors.

Now, here’s the rub. If your physician suggests a hospital that does a lot of the surgery you need, you can take a sigh of relief. But if he or she doesn’t, you should have a conversation about why you’d prefer going to a different hospital, perhaps one your doctor doesn’t like or may not have “privileges” at (that is, doesn’t do surgery there). You may even have to decide if you’ll have to leave this surgeon and go with another who is “on staff” (has permission to operate) at the hospital with the higher-volume of the surgery you need.

It isn’t always easy. But if you improve your odds of a quick recovery, it’s well worth it.  Just remember, this shouldn’t be an emotional decision. You’re in charge of your body. Base your decision on the facts.

About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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