Health Team

Study: Volume of bariatric surgeries determines complication rate

Posted July 27, 2010 6:30 p.m. EDT

— Bariatric surgery is the second most common type of abdominal operation performed in the United States, but the safety and outcomes of these wight-loss procedures remain a concern for physicians.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found how patients might be able to choose the hospital and surgeon to lower their risk of complications as much as possible.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed outcomes of more than 15,000 bariatric surgery patients across Michigan for three years.

"Low-volume hospitals and surgeons had a serious complication rate of 4 percent, compared with 2 percent for high-volume surgeons in hospitals," study author Nancy Birkmeyer said.

Centers of excellence and other hospitals had the same complication rates.

"With our study, we now have very strong evidence that bariatric surgery outcomes are related to procedure volume and are not related to centers of excellence status," Birkmeyer said.

Previous studies were based on hospital billing data, which she said may not be the best way to measure complications.

"At least in the state of Michigan, bariatric surgery is now remarkably safe," she said.

Pam Heatlie said bariatric surgery changed her life.

"I can walk all day long, and my feet don't hurt. I just feel free my life is mine again," Heatlie said. "It's not for everybody, but it has been a miracle for me."

The 25 hospitals and 62 surgeons in the study were part of a collaboration that meets to discuss outcome data and ways to improve. Researchers said they hope the results will spark other states to start collaborative quality improvement programs.