Hospital label no guarantee of better weight surgery

Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:20pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Despite the fancy label, hospitals designated bariatric surgery "centers of excellence" have as many deaths and complications from the weight-loss procedure as others, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The extra cost and effort required by hospitals to earn such a designation might not be worth it, they said.

"Designation as a bariatric surgery center of excellence does not ensure better outcomes," Dr. Edward Livingston of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, whose study appears in the Archives of Surgery, said in a statement.

Bariatric surgery is becoming an increasingly popular treatment for obesity. It works by altering the digestive tract to reduce the volume of food that can be eaten and digested.

A separate study in the same journal looked at the benefits of the surgery in severely obese patients.

Large insurance companies and Medicare, the federal health plan for 44 million elderly and disabled Americans, help pay for the surgery -- which costs from $15,000 to $35,000 -- in severely obese people. And many payers, including Medicare, require the procedures to be done at hospital designated as a bariatric center of excellence.

Livingston wanted to see if patients at these centers actually got better care. He analyzed 2005 data on 19,363 patients who had bariatric surgery, including 5,420 patients whose surgery was performed at a center of excellence.

He found that 1.7 percent of bariatric surgery patients treated at a center of excellence died and 6.3 percent developed complications. That compared with a death rate of .09 and a complication rate of 6.4 percent at hospitals without a center of excellence designation.   Continued...