Surgeon Experience and Medicare Expenditures for Laparoscopic Compared to Open Colectomy

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Abstract

Objective:

To quantify the extent to which payments for laparoscopic and open colectomy are influenced by a surgeon's experience with laparoscopy.

Background:

Numerous studies suggest that healthcare costs for laparoscopic colectomy are lower than open surgery. None have assessed the importance of surgeon experience on the relative financial benefits of laparoscopy.

Methods:

We conducted a study of 182,852 national Medicare beneficiaries undergoing laparoscopic or open colectomy between 2010 and 2012. Using instrumental variable methods to account for selection bias, we compared Medicare payments for laparoscopic and open colectomy. We stratified our analysis by surgeons’ annual experience with laparoscopic colectomy to determine the influence of provider experience on payments.

Results:

In the fully adjusted analysis, average episode payments per patient were $2640 [95% confidence interval (CI) −$4091 to −$1189] lower with the laparoscopic approach versus open. Surgeons in the highest quartile of laparoscopic experience demonstrated an average payment savings of $5456 per patient (CI −$7918 to −$2994) in their laparoscopic versus open cases. Among surgeons in the lowest quartile of laparoscopic experience, there was, however, no difference between laparoscopic and open cases (difference: $954, 95% CI −$731 to $2639). Differences in payments were explained by differences in complications rates. Both groups had similar rates of complications for open procedures (least experience, 21%, most experience, 21%; P = 0.45), but differed significantly on rates of complications for laparoscopic cases (least experience, 28%, most experience, 15%; P < 0.01).

Conclusions:

This population-based study demonstrates that differences in payments between laparoscopic and open colectomy are influenced by surgeon experience. The laparoscopic approach does not reduce payments for patients whose surgeons have limited experience with the procedure.

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