Context: Hospitals that treat a relatively high volume of patients for selected surgical oncology procedures report lower surgical in-hospital mortality rates than hospitals with a low volume of the procedures, but the reports do not take into account length of stay or adjust for case mix.
Objective: To determine whether hospital volume was inversely associated with 30-day operative mortality, after adjusting for case mix.
Design and setting: Retrospective cohort study using the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare linked database in which the hypothesis was prospectively specified. Surgeons determined in advance the surgical oncology procedures for which the experience of treating a larger volume of patients was most likely to lead to the knowledge or technical expertise that might offset surgical fatalities.
Patients: All 5013 patients in the SEER registry aged 65 years or older at cancer diagnosis who underwent pancreatectomy, esophagectomy, pneumonectomy, liver resection, or pelvic exenteration, using incident cancers of the pancreas, esophagus, lung, colon, and rectum, and various genitourinary cancers diagnosed between 1984 and 1993.
Main outcome measure: Thirty-day mortality in relation to procedure volume, adjusted for comorbidity, patient age, and cancer stage.
Results: Higher volume was linked with lower mortality for pancreatectomy (P=.004), esophagectomy (P<.001), liver resection (P=.04), and pelvic exenteration (P=.04), but not for pneumonectomy (P=.32). The most striking results were for esophagectomy, for which the operative mortality rose to 17.3% in low-volume hospitals, compared with 3.4% in high-volume hospitals, and for pancreatectomy, for which the corresponding rates were 12.9% vs 5.8%. Adjustments for case mix and other patient factors did not change the finding that low volume was strongly associated with excess mortality.
Conclusions: These data support the hypothesis that when complex surgical oncologic procedures are provided by surgical teams in hospitals with specialty expertise, mortality rates are lower.