Objective: To determine whether individual surgeon experience is associated with improved short-term clinical and economic outcomes for patients with benign and malignant thyroid disease who underwent thyroid procedures in Maryland between 1991 and 1996.
Summary background data: There is a prevailing belief that surgeon experience affects patient outcomes in endocrine surgery, but there is a paucity of objective evidence outside of clinical series published by experienced surgeons that supports this view.
Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of all patients who underwent thyroidectomy in Maryland between 1991 and 1996 was conducted using a computerized statewide hospital discharge data base. Surgeons were categorized by volume of thyroidectomies over the 6-year study period: A (1 to 9 cases), B (10 to 29 cases), C (30 to 100 cases), and D (>100 cases). Multivariate regression was used to assess the relation between surgeon caseload and in-hospital complications, length of stay, and total hospital charges, adjusting for case mix and hospital volume.
Results: The highest-volume surgeons (group D) performed the greatest proportion of total thyroidectomies among the 5860 discharges, and they were more likely to operate on patients with cancer. After adjusting for case mix and hospital volume, highest-volume surgeons had the shortest length of stay (1.4 days vs. 1.7 days for groups B and C and 1.9 days for group A) and the lowest complication rate (5.1 % vs. 6.1% for groups B and C and 8.6% for group A). Length of stay and complications were more determined by surgeon experience than hospital volume, which had no consistent association with outcomes.
Conclusions: Individual surgeon experience is significantly associated with complication rates and length of stay for thyroidectomy.