Mortality in Australian Cardiothoracic Surgery: Findings From a National Audit

Ann Thorac Surg. 2020 Jun;109(6):1880-1888. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2019.09.060. Epub 2019 Nov 11.


Background: Independent peer review of mortality cases has potential to identify issues in cardiothoracic surgical patients. The Australian and New Zealand Audit of Surgical Mortality aims to improve surgical care through peer-reviewed assessment of all surgical mortality. The aim of this study was to describe common clinical management issues that contribute to patient mortality in a cohort of Australian cardiothoracic surgical patients. This approach may subsequently provide a basis for quality improvement.

Methods: Cardiothoracic mortality reports to the Australian and New Zealand Audit of Surgical Mortality from February 2009 through December 2015 were reviewed. The surgeon report and assessor comments were coded to identify clinical management issues. These were divided into perioperative stages (preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative), and at each stage a thematic analysis was performed.

Results: Of the 908 cases analyzed, 1371 clinical management issues were identified. Postoperative issues were the most common (n = 552), followed by preoperative (n = 378) and intraoperative issues (n = 370). Communication issues were present at all 3 stages (n = 71). Overall the most common theme was intraoperative technical issues (n = 287). Many of these issues revolved around unintentional injury to anatomic structures during surgery and inadequate myocardial protection. Communication issues commonly related to surgical handover to the intensive care unit and lack of shared decision-making. Also common were consultant surgeons being unaware of patient deterioration or significant changes in management.

Conclusions: The Australian and New Zealand Audit of Surgical Mortality provides valuable insights into issues affecting mortality in cardiothoracic patients. Potentially avoidable management issues play a large role in determining the outcome of these patients. Quality improvement initiatives targeting these areas may be valuable.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / mortality
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / surgery*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit / methods*
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Thoracic Surgical Procedures / mortality*
  • Time Factors