Would you Like to Know your Surgeon’s History of Complications?

November 18, 2015

ABOS was Going to use a History of Complications – but it Didn’t

history of surgical complications

Surgical complications are a risk of any surgery. But if a doctor has a history of many surgical complications, it might be a reason to pick a different doctor.

ProPublica is a journalistic organization known for the quality of its investigations and research. The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery is the organization which determines certification for orthopedic surgeons. The ABOS is responsible for setting standards for orthopedic surgeons and certification is used to help potential patients know whether their doctors are meeting high standards for both the “initial and continuing qualifications and competence of orthopedic surgeons.” As a result, it was with great interest that we learned that ABOS planned on using ProPublica’s data related to a history of complications by individuals surgeons as part of its re-certification process. Unfortunately, it seems, the ABOS changed its mind and will not be using this important information.

What did ProPublica’s History of Complications Offer?

ProPublica created a Surgeon Scorecard. By reviewing this database, you can find out the level for deaths and complication rates by surgeons who perform certain types of elective procedures. This includes some surgeries performed by Orthopedists, including:

  • Knee Replacement
  • Hip Replacement
  • Three Types of Spinal Fusions
knee surgery complications

Knee surgery is one of the areas the Surgeon Scorecard analyzes.

These are commonly performed procedures, and ProPublica chose them because, “they are scheduled in advance and generally performed on patients in stable health.” ProPublica specifically, “excluded patients who came in through the emergency room or from facilities like nursing homes.” The purpose of this methodology was to decrease the risk of surgeons being scored based on working with patients who were not having surgery under the best conditions possible. ProPublica wanted, “to be fair to surgeons” and not judge them based on, “complications beyond a surgeon’s control.”

Using this kind of information as part of the re-certification process would have been extremely helpful, because it provides objective information about how frequently orthopedic surgeons experience complications under even the most ideal circumstances possible.

Why did the ABOS Change its Mind?

According to ProPublica, the ABOS claims that there was an, “unfortunate…misunderstanding” between it and a the expression of interest by by an individual with the ABOS. It seems that there was never been a formal decision to use the Surgeon Scorecard.

It is important to note, that the Surgeon Scorecard did cause substantial debate upon its release. Many felt that the methodology was valuable, while others questioned whether the Medicare data upon which the information was based was an appropriate.

You Can Still Use the Scorecard

Despite the fact that the Orthopedic Board has decided not to use the Surgeon Scorecard, you can still use it yourself to research potential surgeons. In addition to the already mentioned procedures, you can also check on complications including:

You will not want to make your decision solely on the Surgeon’s Scorecard and its look at a surgeon’s history of complications, but it certainly can be a useful tool to guide you.

Experienced Surgical Complications?

Some surgical complications are simply part of the risk of any surgery. However, some complications are due to negligence and are unacceptable. If you believe you were a victim of a surgical complication that was caused by medical malpractice, contact our team at Lowenthal & Abrams for a free consultation.


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