Improving outcomes in emergency general surgery: Construct of a collaborative quality initiative

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2024 May 1;96(5):715-726. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000004248. Epub 2024 Jan 8.


Background: Emergency general surgery conditions are common, costly, and highly morbid. The proportion of excess morbidity due to variation in health systems and processes of care is poorly understood. We constructed a collaborative quality initiative for emergency general surgery to investigate the emergency general surgery care provided and guide process improvements.

Methods: We collected data at 10 hospitals from July 2019 to December 2022. Five cohorts were defined: acute appendicitis, acute gallbladder disease, small bowel obstruction, emergency laparotomy, and overall aggregate. Processes and inpatient outcomes investigated included operative versus nonoperative management, mortality, morbidity (mortality and/or complication), readmissions, and length of stay. Multivariable risk adjustment accounted for variations in demographic, comorbid, anatomic, and disease traits.

Results: Of the 19,956 emergency general surgery patients, 56.8% were female and 82.8% were White, and the mean (SD) age was 53.3 (20.8) years. After accounting for patient and disease factors, the adjusted aggregate mortality rate was 3.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.2-3.7), morbidity rate was 27.6% (95% CI, 27.0-28.3), and the readmission rate was 15.1% (95% CI, 14.6-15.6). Operative management varied between hospitals from 70.9% to 96.9% for acute appendicitis and 19.8% to 79.4% for small bowel obstruction. Significant differences in outcomes between hospitals were observed with high- and low-outlier performers identified after risk adjustment in the overall cohort for mortality, morbidity, and readmissions. The use of a Gastrografin challenge in patients with a small bowel obstruction ranged from 10.7% to 61.4% of patients. In patients who underwent initial nonoperative management of acute cholecystitis, 51.5% had a cholecystostomy tube placed. The cholecystostomy tube placement rate ranged from 23.5% to 62.1% across hospitals.

Conclusion: A multihospital emergency general surgery collaborative reveals high morbidity with substantial variability in processes and outcomes among hospitals. A targeted collaborative quality improvement effort can identify outliers in emergency general surgery care and may provide a mechanism to optimize outcomes.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic/Care Management; Level III.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Acute Care Surgery
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Appendicitis / surgery
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Gallbladder Diseases / surgery
  • General Surgery / organization & administration
  • General Surgery / standards
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Obstruction* / mortality
  • Intestinal Obstruction* / surgery
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Quality Improvement* / organization & administration