The Surgeon Volume-outcome Relationship: Not Yet Ready for Policy

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Increasing surgeon volume may improve outcomes for index operations. We hypothesized that there may be surrogate operative experiences that yield similar outcomes for surgeons with a low-volume experience with a specific index operation, such as esophagectomy.


The relationship between surgeon volume and outcomes has potential implications for credentialing of surgeons. Restrictions of privileges based on surgeon volume are only reasonable if there is no substitute for direct experience with the index operation. This study was aimed at determining whether there are valid surrogates for direct experience with a sample index operation—open esophagectomy.


The Nationwide Inpatient Sample (2003–2009) was utilized. Surgeons were stratified into low and high-volume groups based on annual volume of esophagectomy. Surrogate volume was defined as the aggregate annual volume per surgeon of upper gastrointestinal operations including excision of esophageal diverticulum, gastrectomy, gastroduodenectomy, and repair of diaphragmatic hernia.


In all, 26,795 esophagectomies were performed nationwide (2003–2009), with a crude inhospital mortality rate of 5.2%. Inhospital mortality decreased with increasing volume of esophagectomies performed annually: 7.7% and 3.8% for low and high-volume surgeons, respectively (P < 0.0001). Among surgeons with a low-volume esophagectomy experience, increasing volume of surrogate operations improved the outcomes observed for esophagectomy: 9.7%, 7.1%, and 4.3% for low, medium, and high-surrogate-volume surgeons, respectively (P = 0.016).


Both operation-specific volume and surrogate volume are significant predictors of inhospital mortality for esophagectomy. Based on these observations, it would be premature to limit hospital privileges based solely on operation-specific surgeon volume criteria.

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