Accredited bariatric surgery centers have fewer postoperative complications

A recent review of published medical studies indicates that patients who have weight loss operations at non-accredited bariatric surgery facilities in the U.S. are up to 1.4 times more likely to experience serious postoperative complications and more than twice as likely to die after the procedure in comparison with patients who undergo these procedures at accredited bariatric surgery centers. The study authors also report that accredited bariatric centers have lower costs than non-accredited centers. These results, which are posted on the Journal of the American College of Surgeons website in advance of print publication, represent the first comprehensive review of the best available evidence comparing bariatric surgery results in accredited U.S. centers with outcomes at non-accredited U.S. centers.

“A preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that bariatric surgery becomes safer with accreditation of the surgical center,” said principal investigator John Morton, MD, MPH, FACS, FASMBS, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, CA. “Accreditation makes a big difference.” The American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons (ASMBS) merged their accreditation programs in 2012 to create the unified Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program, and more than 700 centers in the country now hold this accreditation. This credential signifies that a surgical facility has met rigorous standards for high-quality surgical care.

Reducing the odds of complications

In their review article, Dr. Morton and first author Dan Azagury, MD, also a bariatric and general surgeon at Stanford, included 13 studies published between 2009 and 2014, comprising more than 1.5 million patients. Dr. Morton acknowledged that a number of patients might be duplicates because some studies used the same national database.

Eight of 11 studies that evaluated postoperative complications found that undergoing a bariatric operation in an accredited facility reduced the odds of experiencing a serious complication by 9 percent to 39 percent (odds ratios of 1.09 to 1.39), the researchers reported. The difference was reportedly even more pronounced for the risk of death occurring in the hospital or up to 90 days postoperatively. Six of eight studies that reported mortality showed that the odds of dying after a bariatric procedure, while low at an accredited center, was 2.26 to 3.57 times higher at a non-accredited facility.

Nearly all the studies used risk adjustment, which compensates for different levels of patient risk and which experts believe makes results more accurate. Only three studies (23 percent) failed to show a significant benefit of accreditation.

Reducing costs

Drs. Morton and Azagury also analyzed studies that reported average hospital charges and found lower costs at accredited centers. “Accredited bariatric surgical centers provide not only safer care but also less expensive care,” Dr. Morton said.

A systematic review was the best way to study this issue, according to Dr. Morton. He said most insurers today will not cover surgical care at non-accredited bariatric centers, making it difficult to perform a randomized controlled clinical trial. In 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) stopped requiring Medicare beneficiaries to undergo bariatric operations at accredited bariatric centers as a condition of coverage.

Meanwhile, a growing number of patients are choosing surgical treatment for obesity—widely considered the most effective long-term weight-loss therapy. An estimated 179,000 patients underwent gastric bypass, gastric banding, and other bariatric operations in 2013 compared with 158,000 two years earlier, according to the ASMBS.

“These results provide important information that can be used to guide future policy decisions. Perhaps CMS should revisit this policy again,” Dr. Morton suggested.

Read the JACS article online.

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