Relationship between patients' reports of complications and symptoms, disability and quality of life after surgery

Br J Surg. 2012 Aug;99(8):1156-63. doi: 10.1002/bjs.8830. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Background: Patient-reported complications are increasingly being used to compare the performance of surgical departments. The objectives of this study were to explore the validity of patient-reported complications and to determine their influence on patients' reports of the benefits of surgery (health gain).

Methods: This was an observational study of patients in England who underwent hip replacement (68,391), knee replacement (77,705), inguinal hernia repair (48,199) or varicose vein surgery (16,535) during 2009-2011. Health gain was assessed with condition-specific measures of symptoms and disability (Oxford Hip Score, Oxford Knee Score, Aberdeen Varicose Vein Questionnaire), health-related quality of life (EQ-5D™ index) and a single item on the success of surgery. Adverse outcomes included four complications, readmission and further surgery.

Results: There was evidence that patient-reported complications were valid. Patients with three or more co-morbid conditions reported more complications, whereas age, sex and socioeconomic status (adjusted for co-morbidity) had little, or no association. Complications were strongly associated with readmission and further surgery. Among patients reporting a complication, the Oxford Hip Score or Oxford Knee Score was about 3 points (or 15 per cent) lower than the value in patients not reporting a complication. The EQ-5D™ score was about 0·07 lower for joint replacement, 0·06 lower for hernia repair and 0·04 lower for varicose vein surgery.

Conclusion: Patients' reports of complications can be used for statistical comparisons of surgical departments. If the relationship between complications and health gain is causal, there is scope for improving health gain indicators after surgery by minimizing the risk of a complication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip / statistics & numerical data
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee / statistics & numerical data
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hernia, Inguinal / epidemiology
  • Hernia, Inguinal / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Varicose Veins / epidemiology
  • Varicose Veins / surgery