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Better Bariatric Surgery Outcomes Depend on Data, Accreditation

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, February 6, 2014

A surgeon's success in reducing readmissions among gastric bypass surgery patients underscores the importance of collecting data through a system of accreditation.

Three years ago, bariatric surgeon John Morton, MD, thought the 8.5% readmission rate for gastric bypass patients at his hospital, Stanford University, was something to boast about, because it compared favorably to national readmission rates of about 20%.

But then he saw the data.

Nationally, readmission rates for bariatric surgery patients hovered lower, around 6%. Stanford no longer looked so good. What's more, data showed that 60% of its gastric bypass readmissions were occurring because patients just weren't drinking enough water. They were simply dehydrated.

"We saw that our patients didn't always understand their diet despite the best efforts of our education," says Morton, who directs Stanford's Bariatric Surgery and Surgical Quality programs. But "until I saw the data, I wasn't moved to action."

Morton's experience illustrates the importance of collecting data through a system of accreditation, which by the way, 175 of 900 hospitals that perform bariatric surgical services do not have, he says. More on that shocking statistic later.

After seeing its readmission statistics, Stanford instituted a quality improvement program "that decreased our readmission rate by approximately 70%," so that 18 months later it had dropped to 2.5%, Morton says. "We wouldn't have done that if we didn't have the data."

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