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New website lets patients search for surgeons with best outcomes

Jay Crandall

Phoenix, AZ -- You might be surprised to know the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is preventable medical errors.

"It is at least 200,000 deaths per year, attributable to preventable medical errors," said Kevin Brasler, executive editor of checkbook.org.

He said a huge percentage of those are the result of surgery. But, until recently, you had no way to know which surgeons had the best outcomes and that information is important.

"Some surgeons have rates of death that are three times higher than their peer," Brasler said."

And, there are costs besides actual health as well.

"If a patient has to be readmitted to a hospital because of a medical error, that is costing that patient, that hospital, that insurance plan, essentially all of us more money because of a preventable medical error," Brasler said.

Which is why checkbook.org sued the government for access to Medicare records showing actual surgeon performance.

Brasler said information collected about surgeons ranges from their death rates, how many readmissions they have and their complications rates.

The result is surgeonratings.org, an on-line site with surgeons rated by stars.

"The more stars you see for surgeons on our site, the more confident we are the results really were good,"Brasler said.

Checkbook.org looked at the 14 most common in-patient surgeries, including hip or knee replacements, heart by-pass surgery, and gallbladder removal among others.

"Over and over again for the 14 procedures we looked at, we found massive differences," Brasler explained.

And he believes those ratings will be much more powerful than looking at things like which hospital the doctor uses, or even actual recommendations.

"Some of those surgeons are, their reputation is very high, they are kind of known for being the best at that surgery, but they are not the best in terms of the data," he said. "This isn't just a matter of, 'Oh, the doctor works at a good hospital, or bad hospital,' it is that even within all the good hospitals and that same good hospital, some surgeons do better than others. "

Right now all of the surgeons on the site are three-star rated or more.

"But even a three-star doctor, we are pretty sure that that doctor had better than average results. That that doctor had good results," Brasler said.

He added they wanted to get the most usable information out first, because it really could mean the difference between life and death,

"Some surgeons just have far better outcomes than others," Brasler said.

Both surgeonratings.org and surgeon scorecard are now using that Medicare information and both are searchable by procedure and location.

KPHO

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