Is There a Minimum Number of Thyroidectomies a Surgeon Should Perform to Optimize Patient Outcomes?


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Abstract

Objective:To determine the number of total thyroidectomies per surgeon per year associated with the lowest risk of complications.Background:The surgeon volume–outcome association has been established for thyroidectomy; however, a threshold number of cases defining a “high-volume” surgeon remains unclear.Methods:Adults undergoing total thyroidectomy were identified from the Health Care Utilization Project-National Inpatient Sample (1998–2009). Multivariate logistic regression with restricted cubic splines was utilized to examine the association between the number of annual total thyroidectomies per surgeon and risk of complications.Results:Among 16,954 patients undergoing total thyroidectomy, 47% had thyroid cancer and 53% benign disease. Median annual surgeon volume was 7 cases; 51% of surgeons performed 1 case/y. Overall, 6% of the patients experienced complications. After adjustment, the likelihood of experiencing a complication decreased with increasing surgeon volume up to 26 cases/y (P < 0.01). Among all patients, 81% had surgery by low-volume surgeons (≤25 cases/y). With adjustment, patients undergoing surgery by low-volume surgeons were more likely to experience complications (odds ratio 1.51, P = 0.002) and longer hospital stays (+12%, P = 0.006). Patients had an 87% increase in the odds of having a complication if the surgeon performed 1 case/y, 68% for 2 to 5 cases/y, 42% for 6 to 10 cases/y, 22% for 11 to 15 cases/y, 10% for 16 to 20 cases/y, and 3% for 21 to 25 cases/y.Conclusions:This is the first study to identify a surgeon volume threshold (>25 total thyroidectomies/y) that is associated with improved patient outcomes. Identifying a threshold number of cases defining a high-volume thyroid surgeon is important, as it has implications for quality improvement, criteria for referral and reimbursement, and surgical education.

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