Mayfield Clinic, Department of Neurosurgery publish outcomes report of more than 5,000 neurosurgical procedures

Milestone in transparency reflects major step forward in national effort to quantify quality of healthcare


CINCINNATI – Amidst an ongoing national discussion about healthcare reform and the role of patient outcomes in improving quality and containing costs, the Mayfield Clinic and the University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Neurosurgery have taken a leadership role by publishing the outcomes of more than 5,000 consecutive procedures collectively performed during 2009. The results were published online August 10, 2012, in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

"Health care reform has included discussions about surgical outcomes," says Philip Theodosopoulos, MD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at UC and a Mayfield Clinic neurosurgeon. "Yet these outcomes can be difficult to measure in a clinical practice, outside the realm of clinical trials. Our goal was to take an important step forward in developing a process for measuring outcomes that is accurate, comprehensive, and auditable."

By tracking outcomes, the Department of Neurosurgery and the Mayfield Clinic hoped to promote quality of care and better decision-making while establishing data that would be helpful for patients, families, and healthcare providers. An electronic medical records system (EMR), first implemented by Mayfield in 2007, helped facilitate the gathering, interpreting, and reporting of data. Information gathered during each patient interaction was recorded into the EMR by physicians, nurses, medical secretaries, and medical assistants.

"This large study has yielded many lessons that bear on the development and implementation of a process that can be generalized for many medical settings," says Dr. Theodosopoulos, the study’s principal investigator."

The initiative, undertaken as a feasibility study and dubbed the Outcomes Project, involved an assessment of 5,361 consecutive elective and emergency surgical cases by 19 neurosurgeons at multiple hospitals.

Outcomes were based on the health and functional status of patients immediately after surgery and at a later post-operative periods. Data was tracked in the following categories:

  • length of hospital stay
  • major and minor complications
  • return to work
  • symptom severity
  • scores by validated scales (i.e., the Oswestry Disability Index for patients with spinal disease; the Karnofsky Performance Scale and Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Performance Status for patients with tumors; and the modified Rankin Scale for patients with vascular conditions and trauma.)

Following a one-year trial period (2007-2008) that involved three technologically savvy neurosurgeons, the Outcomes Project was rolled out across the organization in 2009. Preparation included company-wide data-collection training for staff. One of the project’s achievements, Dr. Theodosopoulos says, was the documented trend toward improved and more accurate noting of complications into the EMR field as the project progressed. Reporting rates of major complications improved throughout the year, from 81 percent in the first quarter to 90 percent in the fourth quarter. In auditing, rates of unreported complications decreased from 11 percent in the first quarter to 4 percent in the fourth quarter.

In publishing the results, the researchers stated that complication rates were available for 4,593 procedures, of which two-thirds were spinal and one-third cranial. Of these, no complications were reported for 4,367 procedures, or 95 percent of the total. Major complications included culture-proven infection in 0.6%, cerebrospinal fluid leak in 0.9%, repeat surgery during the same hospitalization in 0.4%, and new neurologic deficit in 0.8%. In other outcomes:

  • Of the 5,361 patients treated, 86 percent were discharged home; 9 percent went to a rehabilitation center; 3 percent went to a nursing home; and 0.76 percent died.
  • Procedure-specific median length of hospitalization was three days for a craniotomy for aneurysm and tumor, and less than one day for an angiogram, anterior cervical discectomy with fusion, or lumbar discectomy.

"The Mayfield Clinic has frankly documented its efforts during the process of collecting outcome data in this journal article," Dr. Theodosopoulos says. "The article highlights the lessons learned during implementation and auditing, and it is the largest series to report on consecutive patient outcomes collected prospectively at every a point-of-care interaction and audited for accuracy. This is a major step forward in methodology of outcomes reporting, something that people doubted for a long time could be done -- particularly in surgery -- and we could say we certainly proved the doubters wrong."

Co-authors of the article are Andrew Ringer, MD, Christopher McPherson, MD, Ronald Warnick, MD, Charles Kuntz, IV, MD, Mario Zuccarello, MD, and John M. Tew, Jr., MD. All are Mayfield Clinic neurosurgeons and faculty members in the Department of Neurosurgery.

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The Mayfield Clinic is recognized as one of the nation's leading physician organizations for clinical care, education, and research of the spine and brain. Supported by 21 neurosurgeons, six neurointensivists, an interventional radiologist, six physical medicine & rehabilitation specialists, and a pain specialist, the Clinic treats 25,000 patients from 35 states and 13 countries in a typical year. Mayfield's physicians have pioneered surgical procedures and instrumentation that have revolutionized the medical art of neurosurgery for brain tumors and neurovascular diseases and disorders.

Philip Theodosopoulos, MD