Hypothesis: Specific complications occur more frequently in elderly patients undergoing major gastrointestinal (GI) tract operations that may represent opportunities for quality improvement.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: One hundred twenty-one hospitals participating in American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (ACS-NSQIP).
Patients: Using the ACS-NSQIP participant use file (2005-2006), patients undergoing upper gastrointestinal tract (n = 4115), hepatobiliary or pancreatic (n = 3364), and colorectal (n = 17 268) operations at 121 hospitals were examined.
Main outcome measures: Risk-adjusted 30-day outcomes were assessed using regression modeling adjusting for patient characteristics, comorbidities, and surgical procedures. The elderly were defined as those older than 75 years.
Results: Between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2006, a total of 24,747 [corrected] patients who underwent major GI tract operations were identified from the ACS-NSQIP data file. In the elderly, overall perioperative morbidity was 1.2 to 2 times higher and mortality was 2.9 to 6.7 times higher than in younger patients after adjusting for differences in preoperative comorbidities. Irrespective of procedure type, the elderly were significantly more likely to experience cardiac (acute myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest), pulmonary (pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and respiratory failure), and urologic (urinary tract infection and renal failure) complications. However, surgical site infections, postoperative bleeding events, deep venous thromboses, and rates of return to the operating room did not differ significantly by age.
Conclusions: Morbidity and mortality are markedly higher in older patients. Quality measures for the elderly currently address only myocardial infarction, surgical site infection, and deep venous thrombosis. If care for the elderly is to be improved, quality improvement initiatives need to be expanded to include postoperative pulmonary and renal complications.