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Message to Patients: ‘Do Your Homework’

Birkmeyer credits the low complication rate to an aggressive statewide quality improvement initiative run by Blue Cross-Blue Shield Michigan, which also funded the study.

About 95% of the hospitals and surgeons performing bariatric surgeries in the state belong to the initiative, which includes a registry of patient complications.

“Surgeons meet three times a year and they are really committed to improving quality,” she says.

Surgeon Rick May, MD, who is a vice president with the health care performance ratings group HealthGrades, says patients considering weight loss surgery today have many resources to educate themselves about the procedures and the facilities in which they are performed.

A recent HealthGrade study that May co-authored found a big difference in complication rates and outcomes among the nation’s hospitals, with the highest-volume facilities reporting the fewest complications.

“There has been an explosion of information to help patients chose the right hospital and surgeon,” he tells WebMD. “With bariatric surgery, people have time to check out different options. They should talk to several surgeons and ask for references from patients.”

Mitchell Roslin, MD, who is chief of obesity surgery at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, says patients are using the resources.

“Patients are doing their homework and asking questions,” he says. “There is probably no group of patients who use the Internet to get information more than mine do.”

He tells WebMD that he is not surprised hospitals with “center of excellence” accreditations fared no better than other hospitals in the study.

“These procedures have become safer as surgeons have become more accustomed to doing them,” he says. “These regulatory groups have taken credit for this improvement, but that credit is not deserved.”

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