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Older Surgeons Not Necessarily Better

Key factor is number of procedures performed, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Pick a surgeon based not on their age, but by the number of operations they have performed, researchers advise.

A team at the University of Michigan Health System reviewed the cases of nearly 461,000 patients, ages 65 to 99, who underwent one of eight surgical procedures: coronary artery bypass; elective abdominal aortic aneurysm repair; aortic valve replacement; carotid endarterectomy; pancreatectomy; esophagectomy; lung surgery; and cystectomy.

The study compared "patient operative mortality" -- death before discharge or within 30 days of surgery -- to factors such as the number of procedures performed by the surgeon, the hospital's surgery volume, and the hospital's teaching status.

Overall, surgeons over age 60 had higher patient death rates than surgeons aged 41 to 50, for three of the eight procedures (pancreatectomy, coronary artery bypass grafting, and carotid endarterectomy).

There was no link between surgeon age and death rates for the other five procedures. The researchers said they were surprised to find that surgeons under age 40, and those aged 41 to 50, had comparable patient death rates for all eight procedures.

"We expected to see a significant difference in patient mortality at the extremes of surgeon age, but instead found very little variation among younger and older surgeons," study author and general surgery resident Dr. Jennifer F. Waljee, said in a prepared statement.

"The bottom line is that for most procedures, the age of the surgeon is not an important predictor of operative risk for a patient. The effect of surgeon age was largely limited to those surgeons with lower procedure volumes," she said.

The findings were published in the September issue of the Annals of Surgery.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers advice for patients who are having surgery.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, August 2006
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