Complications are common in hospitalised patients and surgical patients are at particularly high risk. Typically, the incidence of complications is estimated from administrative data sets that have been designed for billing purposes. The value of those data have been questioned in the past.

A recent study compares the incidence of surgical complications of a U.S. university teaching hospital when an administrative data set is compared to a dedicated system that captures surgical complications prospectively.

A total of 4,700 patients who were admitted for general surgery, vascular surgery, trauma and cardiothoracic surgery were enrolled. All complications were captured and assessed for severity and preventability.

The study has shown the following interesting findings:

  1. A prospective assessment of surgical complications demonstrate complication rates 2 to 4 times higher than those identified in administrative reports.

  2. Almost half of complications and 30% of all surgery-related deaths were deemed by peers to be avoidable.

Capturing complications prospectively offers new opportunities to assess its incidence and risk factors and therefore improve surgical care.

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