Vital healthcare resources are devoted to caring for patients with prolonged hospitalization after routine, moderate-risk surgery. Despite the significant cost, little is known about the overall incidence and pattern of complications in these patients. Four hundred thirty-eight patients undergoing a diverse group of routine, moderate-risk, elective surgical procedures were enrolled into a prospective, blinded, cohort study. Complications were assessed using a postoperative morbidity survey. The main outcome was postoperative complication, defined as either in-hospital death or prolonged postoperative hospitalization (> 7 days). The mortality rate was 1.6%. Postoperative complications occurred in 118 patients (27% [95% CI 23-31]). Complications frequently observed in these patients included: gastrointestinal 51% (42-60), pulmonary 25% (17-33), renal 21% (14-28), and infectious 13% (7-19). Most complications were not directly related to the type/site of surgery. Indices of tissue trauma (blood loss [P < 0.001], surgical duration [P = 0.001]) and tissue perfusion (arterial base deficit [P = 0.008], gastric pHi [P = 0.02]) were the strongest intraoperative predictors of complications. Despite a low mortality rate, we found that complications after routine, moderate-risk, elective surgery are common and involve multiple organ systems. Our 9-point survey can be used by healthcare providers and payers to characterize post-operative morbidity in their respective settings.
Implications: Little is known about the overall incidence and pattern of complications in patients with prolonged hospitalization after routine, elective surgery. We prospectively assessed these complications using a novel postoperative morbidity survey. The postoperative morbidity survey can be used in future clinical outcome trials, as well as in routine hospital-based quality assurance.