A Consumer’s Guide to Coronary Bypass Surgery

From the annual meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

By this summer, the Consumer Reports health Web site will start listing rankings of U.S. surgery programs that do coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) using a 1- to 3-star system. Selecting a  CABG surgeon will become similar to choosing a car or refrigerator. 

photo by Mitchel Zoler

Even more remarkable is that the program has the full support and cooperation of a major U.S. group of cardiac surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. It was partly the Society’s idea, as they reached out to the Consumers Union (the group that publishes Consumer Reports) in early 2009 at a time when Consumers Union was looking to add information like this, said Dr. Frederick L. Grover, a Denver cardiothoracic surgeon and a recent former president of the Society who works on the project. 

The Society will use the extensive outcomes data it collects from its members (roughly 1,000 U.S. practices do coronary bypass surgery) and generate ratings for overall performance as well as four specific outcomes (such as patient survival) as a ratio of observed rates versus expected rates, and then assign the star rating. Most practices will get 2 stars, top performing programs will get 3 stars, and the bottom tier get 1 star. 

At least in part, surgeons felt pressed into making this move to prevent other groups that issue consumer information from jumping in first with similar ratings of their own, but using public-domain data that the thoracic Society considers less reliable. The Society began getting permission for the data release from its members last September and hopes to have at least 300 of the 1,000 programs on board by March. 

Although release of medical performance data to the public isn’t new–Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania have had programs in place for several years–posting the results on a consumer-oriented site such as Consumer Reports and distilling down the information to a simple star rating is novel. It stands to have a major impact on which surgeons have patients knocking on their doors and which ones get shunned.  And it’s not just patients who are the potential audience, but cardiologists and primary care physicians, too. 

“It will be interesting to see if it changes referral patterns,” Dr. Grover said. It’s hard to imagine it won’t. Who will want their heart cut by a 1-star surgeon if there’s a 2- or 3-star alternative? 

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler) 

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Filed under Cardiovascular Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Practice Trends, Surgery, Thoracic Surgery

2 responses to “A Consumer’s Guide to Coronary Bypass Surgery

  1. Sharon


    My name is Sharon Smith and I am the assistant editor of Hospital.com. I am contacting you today in hopes of developing a relationship with your website; we have seen your site and think your content is great. Hospital.com offer a free informational resource to both the general and professional public on several health & hospital related issues..

    I hope you show some interest in building relationship, please contact me at sharon.hospital.com@gmail.com.

  2. Pingback: CABG Practice Ratings Go Live on Consumer Reports Website « EGMN: Notes from the Road

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