Objective: This article outlines the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Audit of Surgical Mortality (ANZASM) and describes its objectives, governance, functioning and challenges.
Background: A nationwide audit of surgical mortality provides an overview of the leading causes of death in patients who require surgical care. It identifies system or process errors, trends in deficiency of care and helps develop strategies to reduce deaths in the surgical arena.
Methods: A standardized tool is used to systematically collect data after every surgical death. Patient details are reviewed by a peer surgeon (and in certain cases a second) to identify issues with patient management and hospital processes. The treating surgeon is then offered confidential feedback and alternate views on patient management.
Results: From January 2009 to December 2012, 19,096 deaths were reported to the ANZASM. Eighty-six percent of the audited deaths occurred in patients requiring an emergency admission. Significant criticism of patient care was reported in 13% of cases with 16% of clinical issues perceived to be preventable. Western Australia, which first began the audit process, has shown a 30% reduction in surgical deaths.
Conclusions: Nationwide mortality audits are a useful and worthwhile exercise. Recommendations identified in the audit reports direct educational workshops and seminars to address these issues. They allow Departments of Health to make informed decisions in their hospitals. Through this model, and the lessons learnt, we would encourage other countries planning to set up their own audits to follow a similar concept.