Consumer Reports to Rate Heart Surgery Groups

Consumer Reports to Rate Heart Surgery GroupsConsumer Reports, known for its objective ratings of cars, electronics and other consumer goods, will expand its reach to cover surgical groups, but it's using a methodology that may not be all that useful. The magazine and its parent announced that they have "teamed with The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) to rate heart-surgery groups based on their performance data for bypass surgery. For the first time, consumers can easily see how surgical groups compare with national benchmarks for survival, complications, and other measures."

The STS represents 4,500 surgeons worldwide who operate on the thorax and chest. Its Adult Cardiac Surgery Database "includes more than 4 million surgical records and covers roughly 90 percent of the more than 1,000 surgical groups in the U.S. that perform cardiac surgery, making it the largest such registry in the world." Consumer Reports will use a three-star rating system to rank surgical groups above average, average, or below average based on survival rates, complications and several other factors.

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"These ratings include only those groups that have agreed to let us publish their performance results," Consumer Reports said. "That includes 221 groups from 42 states, plus the District of Columbia. Fifty of those groups received three stars for their overall performance, 166 got two stars, and five got one star. We will periodically update the ratings with data from additional groups that agree to release their information to us."

The system appears to be deeply flawed. By including in their statistical universe only those practitioners who agree to be measured, Consumer Reports is likely to leave out a large number of relevant operations that should be included in a realistic evaluation. When the magazine's publisher, Consumers Union, measures the quality of cars, appliances or other products, it can buy and evaluate a broad spectrum of them. By comparison, their surgical data is incomplete. And that goes to the heart of whether this new ranking system is worthwhile.
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