Thoracic Surgery in the Real World: Does Surgical Specialty Affect Outcomes in Patients Having General Thoracic Operations?

Department of Surgery, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0284, USA.
The Annals of thoracic surgery (Impact Factor: 3.85). 03/2012; 93(4):1041-7; discussion 1047-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2011.12.061
Source: PubMed


Most general thoracic operations in the United States are performed by general surgeons. Results obtained by those identified as general surgeons are often compared with those identified as thoracic surgeons.
We interrogated the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Project database over a 5-year period to compare outcomes in patients who underwent similar operations by surgeons identified as either thoracic surgeons or general surgeons. We employed propensity-score matching to minimize confounding when estimating the effect of surgeon identity on postoperative outcomes.
During the study period, thoracic surgeons performed 3,263 major pulmonary or esophageal operations, and general surgeons performed 15,057 similar operations. Compared with patients operated on by general surgeons, patients operated on by thoracic surgeons had significant excess multivariate comorbidities, including insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, concurrent pneumonia, congestive heart failure, previous cardiac surgery, dialysis-dependent renal failure, disseminated cancer, prior sepsis, and previous operation within 30 days. Likewise, patients in highest risk categories had operations performed by thoracic surgeons more commonly than by general surgeons. Unadjusted comparisons for mortality and serious morbidity showed significantly worse mortality and pulmonary complications in patients operated on by thoracic surgeons. However, with propensity matching according to surgeon type, thoracic surgeons had significantly fewer serious adverse outcomes compared with general surgeons, and this decreased morbidity occurred in a higher risk cohort.
Our results show that patients operated on by thoracic surgeons have higher acuity compared with patients operated on by general surgeons. When patients are matched for comorbidities and serious preoperative risk factors, thoracic surgeons have improved outcomes, especially with regard to infectious complications and composite morbidity.

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