California hospitals share data with each other

When I first heard that some surgeons don’t know how often their patients have major complications or die from a procedure, it was hard to believe. Could it be true that I can get more information about the quality of a flat screen TV or car, than a surgery that can kill me? 

I was told about how many hospitals lack a centralized database to track complications. Beyond that, for the hospitals that do try there isn’t a standardized system to compile and analyze the data.

But patient safety experts say without this information it’s hard for doctors to know how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

To tackle this issue, the Society for Vascular Surgery is helping hospitals share their data on complications. Six regions in the country are doing this. Each group will compare outcomes for a handful of procedures, including a risky stroke prevention surgery called a carotid endarterectomy.

My colleague Emily Bazar and I have been reporting about the potential dangers of this surgery for the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED Public Radio.

Dr. Fred Weaver is a professor of surgery at the University of Southern California. He’s also the medical director of the SoCal Vascular Outcomes and Improvement Collaborative.

Weaver says seven hospitals have signed up so far: Keck Medical Center of USC, UCLA Medical Center, UC San Diego Health System, Cedars-Sinai, Loma Linda University Medical Center, Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Providence Tarzana Medical Center.

The idea is simple – after surgeries, doctors enter information like how often a patient dies or has a heart attack or stroke into a centralized data registry. Then they meet in person to discuss what worked and didn’t. The hospitals pay a fee to participate and in return get access to real-time complications and outcomes data.

In practice, of course, it’s much more complicated than that…you can read more about the details from the Society for Vascular Surgery.

Weaver says he hopes to have at least three more hospitals join the group. And hospitals in Northern California are interested in sharing outcomes data on vascular surgery too.

Dr. Jack Cronenwett is a professor of surgery at Dartmouth Medical School. He’s helping Society for Vascular Surgery quality improvement groups get started around the country. He says they’re based on a model developed in New England (more about that in my KQED story). 

He says to get buy-in from doctors and hospitals, the group does not currently make the information available to the public. By guaranteeing such anonymity, he says, doctors are more likely to participate. Eventually, Cronenwett says, he hopes this data will be made public so that patients can better evaluate surgeons and the hospitals where they operate.

California currently does this kind of reporting for heart bypass surgery.

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Kelley Weiss

Broadcast reporter Kelley Weiss is based in our Sacramento office where she’s helping lead the center’s expansion into public broadcasting. Her stories have appeared on NPR,Marketplace, The World, KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio and World Vision Report. She’s produced series about the illegal sale of prescription drugs at swap meets and preventable patient deaths and money mismanagement in Missouri’s mental health system. She won a 2009 national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting and has received several honors in the Association of Health Care Journalists awards competition. She was named a Livingston Finalist in 2011 for a multi-platform project about how tribal sovereignty makes it nearly impossible for mothers to collect child support. Weiss previously worked as a health care reporter at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and KCUR in Kansas City. Her work has also appeared in Reuters, the San Francisco Chronicle and theCenter for Investigative Reporting. She’s completed a health reporting fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists and has a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.

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