Understanding value and patient complexity among common inpatient vascular surgery procedures

J Vasc Surg. 2021 Oct;74(4):1343-1353.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2021.03.036. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


Objective: Vascular surgery patients are highly complex, second only to patients undergoing cardiac procedures. However, unlike cardiac surgery, work relative value units (wRVU) for vascular surgery were undervalued based on an overall patient complexity score. This study assesses the correlation of patient complexity with wRVUs for the most commonly performed inpatient vascular surgery procedures.

Methods: The 2014 to 2017 National Surgical Quality Improvement Program Participant Use Data Files were queried for inpatient cases performed by vascular surgeons. A previously developed patient complexity score using perioperative domains was calculated based on patient age, American Society of Anesthesiologists class of ≥4, major comorbidities, emergent status, concurrent procedures, additional procedures, hospital length of stay, nonhome discharge, and 30-day major complications, readmissions, and mortality. Procedures were assigned points based on their relative rank and then an overall score was created by summing the total points. An observed to expected ratio (O/E) was calculated using open ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm repair (rOAAA) as the referent and then applied to an adjusted median wRVU per operative minute.

Results: Among 164,370 cases, patient complexity was greatest for rOAAA (complexity score = 128) and the least for carotid endarterectomy (CEA) (complexity score = 29). Patients undergoing rOAAA repair had the greatest proportion of American Society of Anesthesiologists class of ≥IV (84.8%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 82.6%-86.8%), highest mortality (35.5%; 95% CI, 32.8%-38.3%), and major complication rate (87.1%; 95% CI, 85.1%-89.0%). Patients undergoing CEA had the lowest mortality (0.7%; 95% CI, 0.7%-0.8%), major complication rate (8.2%; 95% 95% CI, 8.0%-8.5%), and shortest length of stay (2.7 days; 95% CI, 2.7-2.7). The median wRVU ranged from 10.0 to 42.1 and only weakly correlated with overall complexity (Spearman's ρ = 0.11; P < .01). The median wRVU per operative minute was greatest for thoracic endovascular aortic repair (0.25) and lowest for both axillary-femoral artery bypass (0.12) and open femoral endarterectomy, thromboembolectomy, or reconstruction (0.12). After adjusting for patient complexity, CEA (O/E = 3.8) and transcarotid artery revascularization (O/E = 2.8) had greater than expected O/E. In contrast, lower extremity bypass (O/E = 0.77), lower extremity embolectomy (O/E = 0.79), and open abdominal aortic repair (O/E = 0.80) had a lower than expected O/E.

Conclusions: Patient complexity varies substantially across vascular procedures and is not captured effectively by wRVUs. Increased operative time for open procedures is not adequately accounted for by wRVUs, which may unfairly penalize surgeons who perform complex open operations.

Keywords: Patient complexity; Physician reimbursement; Surgical complexity; Work relative value units.