Heart surgery is a life-saving procedure but it also can be scary, and many patients wonder how to find the best cardiologist before they find themselves on the operating table.
It's important to be familiar with your cardiac surgeon and his or her success record with the specific surgery you will undergo.
"I feel like patients don't know what every physician knows: that there's a tremendous variation in the quality of medical care out there," Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told CNN
. "Some surgeons have impeccable records, and some have patterns of complications that are outrageous."
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Here are four tips to finding the top cardiologist to perform heart surgery:
When you research heart surgery success rates, be sure to look at the specific type of surgery you're going to have. A doctor proficient in cardiac bypass or valve surgery may not be skilled in less common procedures.
2. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons maintains a database
of information about surgery groups and hospitals across the country, providing such details as mortality rates and receipt of recommended medications before and after surgery. Right now, the information is about coronary artery bypass graft procedures and aortic valve replacements, but the organization hopes to add other data in the future.
If digging through data on the STS website is complicated, Consumer Reports used the data to put together lists of top cardiac surgeons
and top heart hospitals
Regarding cardiac surgery for children, CNN found that getting statistics on pediatric cardiologists
and programs can be complicated and difficult. In June 2015, the news organization reported that success rates of heart surgery on babies may be "kept secret" from parents. CNN maintains a list of children's hospitals nationwide that are transparent in their cardiac data.
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Don't hesitate to ask a surgeon direct questions about the number of surgeries he or she has performed, the success rate, how many of those surgeries were on males or females, and other questions that can give you an idea of skill level. When asking about the number of surgeries performed, make sure it is the specific surgery that you're having. You could even ask about why they don't supply data to the STS to get an idea of the surgeon's openness about care.
It's important to know as much as you can before your cardiac surgery. In July 2015, ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism organization, reported
that choosing the right surgeon can make all the difference in surgical outcomes.
In looking at Medicare data, ProPublica found that "a small share of doctors, 11 percent, accounted for about 25 percent of the complications. Hundreds of surgeons across the country had rates double and triple the national average. Every day, surgeons with the highest complication rates in our analysis are performing operations in hospitals nationwide."
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