Quality & Patient Safety

Study: Postoperative complications are a major concern for hospitals

Patient Safety Monitor, March 1, 2017

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A recent study sheds new light on the prevalence of postoperative complications.

In November 2016, a study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia (BJA) found that each year there are 50 million postop complications worldwide. Those complications in turn result in 1.5 million deaths. That’s a worldwide average of 16.8% of surgeries resulting in a postop complication and 2.8% of those complications resulting in death before a patient left the hospital. Researchers used data on 44,814 patients who underwent surgery within the same seven-day period, comparing different types of surgery with the frequency and severity of adverse outcomes. The patients came from 474 different hospitals in 27 different countries, ranging between high income (U.S., U.K., Germany) and low income (Uganda, Brazil, Romania).

The study found that the postop complication mortality rate for patients in high-income nations was 2.6%. Meanwhile in low-/middle-income countries the mortality rate is 3.3%. Which means that when a patient in the U.S. experiences a complication due to surgery, their odds of survival are only 0.7% better than if they were treated in another country. 

Plus, patients in high-income countries were more likely to experience complications at all at 19% compared to 11% in low- and middle-income countries. Researchers theorized the difference may be because high-income nations offer surgery to higher-risk patients who are older, frailer, or have long-term diseases like diabetes or heart failure.

"These findings should serve as a wake-up call,” wrote BJA Editor-in-Chief Ravi Majahan. “We need to do more to prevent postsurgery complications—and particularly complications such as infection which are in many cases preventable, but as this research suggests are claiming the lives of three quarters of a million people worldwide, every year."

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