American College of Surgeons responds to new surgeon rating websites

Following the release of two websites ranking the best and worst surgeons in the U.S., the American College of Surgeons (ACS) responded by questioning their usefulness.

The ACS released a statement about the two ratings systems—one put out by the Center for the Study of Services and the other from ProPublica—and wrote that “the usefulness of the information they shared is questionable for a number of reasons.” The ACS, which represents more than 80,000 members, said the websites used different methodologies and claimed they didn’t take into account the severity of the patients’ health. The ACS also noted that surgeons typically work in teams with anesthesiologists and surgical nurses.

“While using clinical data can get us closer to measuring surgical performance, the reality is that in the operating room, many factors and many individuals contribute to the surgical outcome,” the ACS wrote. “Rating a surgeon’s skill in performing a particular operation, without factoring in these other considerations, leads to an incomplete analysis.”

The Center for the Study of Services, a nonprofit healthcare research organization, revealed a website that allows consumers to search for surgeons in their geographic regions to identify the top performers in 14 specialty areas. The organization analyzed Medicare data of more than four million surgeries performed on hospital inpatients by more than 50,000 physicians.

Among the findings, the top 10 percent of performers for heart valve and bypass surgery had death rates of less than 3 percent in the hospital or within 90 days of discharge compared with 11 percent for the bottom 10 percent of surgeons.

ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigative journalism, also used Medicare data and calculated death and complication rates for eight elective surgeries. The ProPublica website adjusted for differences in patient health, age and hospital quality and rated nearly 17,000 surgeons. Consumers are able to search for surgeons based on their location or hospital affiliation.