Public reporting of surgeon outcomes: low numbers of procedures lead to false complacency

Lancet. 2013 Nov 16;382(9905):1674-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61491-9. Epub 2013 Jul 5.


The English National Health Service published outcome information for individual surgeons for ten specialties in June, 2013. We looked at whether individual surgeons do sufficient numbers of procedures to be able to reliably identify those with poor performance. For some specialties, the number of procedures that a surgeon does each year is low and, as a result, the chance of identifying a surgeon with increased mortality rates is also low. Therefore, public reporting of individual surgeons' outcomes could lead to false complacency. We recommend use of outcomes that are fairly frequent, considering the hospital as the unit of reporting when numbers are low, and avoiding interpretation of no evidence of poor performance as evidence of acceptable performance.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / mortality
  • Clinical Competence* / standards
  • Clinical Competence* / statistics & numerical data
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Esophagectomy / mortality
  • Gastrectomy / mortality
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / surgery
  • General Surgery* / standards
  • General Surgery* / statistics & numerical data
  • Hip Fractures / surgery
  • Humans
  • Orthopedic Procedures / mortality
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality*
  • State Medicine* / standards
  • State Medicine* / statistics & numerical data
  • Stomach Neoplasms / surgery
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom