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Ann Surg. 2019 Jan 23. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000003193. [Epub ahead of print]

Ten-year Trends in Surgical Mortality, Complications, and Failure to Rescue in Medicare Beneficiaries.

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University of Michigan Center for Healthcare Outcomes and Policy, Ann Arbor, MI.
University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI.
University of Michigan Department of Surgery, Ann Arbor, MI.


MINI: This study examines how reductions in postoperative complications and improvements in failure to rescue have contributed to improvements in surgical mortality over the past decade. Improvements in rescue explained the majority of observed improvements in surgical mortality, whereas decreased complication rates explained a small proportion of this improvement.


To evaluate how changes in complication and failure to rescue rates influence hospitals' postoperative mortality rates.


Surgical mortality has declined over the last decade, but the mechanisms underlying these improvements are unknown. Specifically, the relative impact of reducing postoperative complications versus improving "failure to rescue" remains unclear.


Using Medicare claims data, we performed a retrospective study of abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, pulmonary resection, colectomy, and pancreatectomy patients. We examined risk-adjusted 30-day mortality, serious complications, and failure to rescue for these patients in from 2005 to 2014 (n = 702,268 patients in 3404 hospitals). Hospitals were then stratified into quintiles by their change in mortality over time.


After stratifying by reductions in mortality from 2005 to 2014, the top 20% of hospitals decreased mortality by 37% (9.0%-5.7%, P < 0.001), decreased serious complications by 11% (15.2%-13.5%, P < 0.001), and decreased failure to rescue by 25% (25.2%-18.9%, P < 0.001). In contrast, the bottom 20% of hospitals increased mortality by 12% (6.9%-7.7%, P < 0.001), increased serious complications by 5% (14.6%-15.4%, P < 0.001), and increased failure to rescue by 4% (21.5%-22.3%, P < 0.001). Partitioning of variance demonstrated that decreased failure to rescue explained 64% of improvement in hospitals' mortality over time, whereas decreased serious complications accounted for only 5% of this improvement.


Hospitals with the largest reductions in surgical mortality achieved these improvements primarily through reducing failure to rescue rates and not by reducing serious complication rates. This suggests that hospitals aiming to reduce surgical mortality should engage in efforts focused on improving rescue.

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