May 31, 2019

A children's hospital kept performing heart surgery, despite doctors' concerns

North Carolina Children's Hospital kept performing pediatric heart surgeries despite doctors' concerns about the program's performance, NYT reports in a gut-wrenching investigation.

Why it matters: The doctors' comments "offer a rare, unfiltered look inside a medical institution as physicians weighed their ethical obligations to patients while their bosses also worried about harming the surgical program," NYT's Ellen Gabler writes.

  • Secret audio recordings obtained by the Times reveal the depth of cardiologists' concerns about whether they should continue sending patients to surgery at the hospital, which is part of the University of North Carolina's medical center.
  • "It's a nightmare right now," one doctor said in 2016. "We are in crisis, and everyone is aware of that."

The big picture: The story reflects more systemic concerns about the quality and consistency of care provided by pediatric heart surgery programs nationally.

  • Hospitals that provide a high volume of surgeries tend to have the best results. But there are so many surgery programs today that reaching an adequate number of surgeries is difficult.
  • Doctors and advocates are pushing for more transparency around pediatric heart surgery outcomes, in the hope of creating more accountability.

The bottom line: UNC does not share its mortality statistics, although about 75% of the hospitals that perform pediatric heart surgery in the U.S. do share this information on a website run by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

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