Importance: In the United States, reports about perioperative complications associated with bariatric surgery led to the establishment of accreditation criteria for bariatric centers of excellence and many bariatric centers obtaining accreditation. Currently, most bariatric procedures occur at these centers, but to what extent they uniformly provide high-quality care remains unknown.
Objective: To describe the variation in surgical outcomes across bariatric centers of excellence and the geographic availability of high-quality centers.
Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective review analyzed the claims data of 145 527 patients who underwent bariatric surgery at bariatric centers of excellence between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2013. Data were obtained from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project's State Inpatient Database. This database included unique hospital identification numbers in 12 states (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin), allowing comparisons among 165 centers of excellence located in those states. Participants were identified using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification codes. Those included in the study cohort were patients with a primary diagnosis of morbid obesity and who underwent laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, open Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, laparoscopic gastric band placement, or laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. Excluded from the cohort were patients younger than 18 years or who had an abdominal malignant neoplasm. Data were analyzed July 1, 2016, through January 10, 2017.
Main outcomes and measures: Risk-adjusted and reliability-adjusted serious complication rates within 30 days of the index operation were calculated for each center. Centers were stratified by geographic location and operative volume.
Results: In this analysis of claims data from 145 527 patients, wide variation in quality was found across 165 bariatric centers of excellence, both nationwide and statewide. At the national level, the risk-adjusted and reliability-adjusted serious complication rates at each center varied 17-fold, ranging from 0.6% to 10.3%. At the state level, variation ranged from 2.1-fold (Wisconsin decile range, 1.5%-3.3%) to 9.5-fold (Nebraska decile range, 1.0%-10.3%). After dividing hospitals into quintiles of quality on the basis of their adjusted complication rates, 38 of 132 (28.8%) had a center in a higher quintile of quality located within the same hospital service area. Variation in rates of complications existed at centers with low volume (annual mean [SD] procedure volume, 156  patients; complication range, 0.6%-6.4%; 9.8-fold variation), medium volume (annual mean [SD] procedure volume, 239  patients; complication range, 0.6%-10.3%; 17.5-fold variation), and high volume (annual mean [SD] procedure volume, 448  patients; complication range, 0.6%-4.9%; 7.5-fold variation).
Conclusions and relevance: Even among accredited bariatric surgery centers, wide variation exists in rates of postoperative serious complications across geographic location and operative volumes. Given that a large proportion of centers are geographically located near higher-performing centers, opportunities for improvement through regional collaboratives or selective referral should be considered.