Background: Over the past decade, improvements in perioperative care have been widely introduced throughout the United States, yet there is no clear indication that the death rate following surgery has improved. We sought to evaluate the number of deaths after surgery in the United States over a 10-year period and to evaluate trends in postoperative mortality.
Methods: Using the National Hospital Discharge Survey, we identified patients who underwent a surgical procedure and subsequently died in the hospital within 30 days of admission.
Results: In 1996 there were 12,250,000 hospitalizations involving surgery, rising to 13,668,000 in 2006. Postoperative deaths, however, declined during this same period, from 201,000 to 156,000 (P < 0.01), giving a postoperative in-hospital death ratio (death per hospitalization) of 1.64 and 1.14% (P < 0.001), respectively, for the two time frames.
Conclusions: The death rate following surgery is substantial but appears to have improved. Such mortality statistics provide an essential measure of the public health impact of surgical care. Incorporating mortality statistics following therapeutic intervention is an essential strategy for regional and national surveillance of care delivery.