Risk adjustment of the postoperative mortality rate for the comparative assessment of the quality of surgical care: results of the National Veterans Affairs Surgical Risk Study

J Am Coll Surg. 1997 Oct;185(4):315-27.


Background: The National Veterans Affairs Surgical Risk Study was designed to collect reliable, valid data on patient risk and outcomes for major surgery in the Veterans Health Administration and to report comparative risk-adjusted postoperative mortality rates for surgical services in Veterans Health Administration.

Study design: This cohort study was conducted in 44 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Included were 87,078 major noncardiac operations performed under general, spinal, or epidural anesthesia between October 1, 1991, and December 31, 1993. The main outcomes measure was all-cause mortality within 30 days after the index procedure. Multivariable logistic regression risk-adjustment models for all operations and for eight surgical subspecialties were developed. Risk-adjusted surgical mortality rates were expressed as observed-to-expected ratios and were compared with unadjusted 30-day postoperative mortality rates.

Results: Patient risk factors predictive of postoperative mortality included serum albumin level, American Society of Anesthesia class, emergency operation, and 31 additional preoperative variables. Considerable variability in unadjusted mortality rates for all operations was observed across the 44 hospitals (1.2-5.4%). After risk adjustment, observed-to-expected ratios ranged from 0.49 to 1.53. Rank order correlation of the hospitals by unadjusted and risk-adjusted mortality rates for all operations was 0.64. Ninety-three percent of the hospitals changed rank after risk adjustment, 50% by more than 5 and 25% by more than 10.

Conclusions: The Department of Veterans Affairs has successfully implemented a system for the prospective collection and comparative reporting of risk-adjusted postoperative mortality rates after major noncardiac operations. Risk adjustment had an appreciable impact on the rank ordering of the hospitals and provided a means for monitoring and potentially improving the quality of surgical care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Hospitals, Veterans / standards*
  • Hospitals, Veterans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Models, Statistical
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Serum Albumin / analysis
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / mortality*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / standards
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs


  • Serum Albumin