Background: The role of surgical care in promoting global health is the subject of much debate. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 study (GBD 2010) offers a new opportunity to consider where surgery fits amongst global health priorities. The GBD 2010 reinforces the DALY as the preferred methodology for determining the relative contribution of disease categories to overall global burden of disease without reference to the likelihood of each category requiring surgery. As such, we hypothesize that the GBD framework underestimates the role of surgery in addressing the global burden of disease.
Methods and findings: We compiled International Classification of Diseases, Version 9, codes from the United States Nationwide Inpatient Sample from 2010. Using the primary diagnosis code for each hospital admission, we aggregated admissions into GBD 2010 disease sub-categories. We queried each hospitalization for a major operation to determine the frequency of admitted patients whose care required surgery. Major operation was defined according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). In 2010, 10 million major inpatient operations were performed in the United States, associated with 28.6% of all admissions. Major operations were performed in every GBD disease subcategory (range 0.2%-84.0%). The highest frequencies of operation were in the subcategories of Musculoskeletal (84.0%), Neoplasm (61.4%), and Transport Injuries (43.2%). There was no disease subcategory that always required an operation; nor was there any disease subcategory that never required an operation.
Conclusions: Surgical care cuts across the entire spectrum of GBD disease categories, challenging dichotomous traditional classifications of 'surgical' versus 'nonsurgical' diseases. Current methods of measuring global burden of disease do not reflect the fundamental role operative intervention plays in the delivery of healthcare services. Novel methodologies should be aimed at understanding the integration of surgical services into health systems to address the global burden of disease.