Background: Board certification is often used as a surrogate indicator of provider competence, although few outcome studies have demonstrated its validity. The aim of this study was to compare the outcomes of patients who underwent surgical procedures under the care of an anesthesiologist with or without board certification.
Methods: Medicare claims records for 144,883 patients in Pennsylvania who underwent general surgical or orthopedic procedures between 1991 and 1994 were used to determine provider-specific outcome rates adjusted to account for patient severity and case mix, and hospital characteristics. Outcomes of 8,894 cases involving midcareer anesthesiologists, 11-25 yr from medical school graduation, who lacked board certification were compared with all other cases. Midcareer anesthesiologist cases were studied because this group had sufficient time to become certified during an era when obtaining certification was already considered important, and consequently had the highest rate of board certification. Mortality within 30 days of admission and the failure-to-rescue rate (defined as the rate of death after an in-hospital complication) were the two primary outcome measures.
Results: Adjusted odds ratios for death and failure to rescue were greater when care was delivered by noncertified midcareer anesthesiologists (death = 1.13 [95% confidence interval, 1.00, 1.26], P < 0.04; failure to rescue = 1.13 [95% confidence interval, 1.01, 1.27], P < 0.04). Adjusting for international medical school graduates did not change these results.
Conclusions: When anesthesiology board certification is very common, as in midcareer practitioners, the lack of board certification is associated with worse outcomes. However, the poor outcomes associated with noncertified providers may be a result of the hospitals at which they practice and not necessarily their manner of practice.