Association of postoperative readmissions with surgical quality using a delphi consensus process to identify relevant diagnosis codes

Academic Article


  • IMPORTANCE Postoperative readmission data are used to measure hospital performance, yet the extent to which these readmissions reflect surgical quality is unknown. OBJECTIVE To establish expert consensus on whether reasons for postoperative readmission are associated with the quality of surgery in the index admission. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS In a modified Delphi process, a panel of 14 experts in medical and surgical readmissions comprising physicians and nonphysicians from Veterans Affairs (VA) and private-sector institutions reviewed 30-day postoperative readmissions from fiscal years 2008 through 2014 associated with inpatient surgical procedures performed at a VA medical center between October 1, 2007, and September 30, 2014. The consensus process was conducted from January through May 2017. Reasons for readmission were grouped into categories based on International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) diagnosis codes. Panelists were given the proportion of readmissions coded by each reason and median (interquartile range) days to readmission. They answered the question, "Does the readmission reason reflect possible surgical quality of care problems in the index admission?" on a scale of 1 (never related) to 5 (directly related) in 3 rounds of consensus building. The consensus process was completed in May 2017 and data were analyzed in June 2017. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Consensus on proportion of ICD-9-coded readmission reasons that reflected quality of surgical procedure. RESULTS In 3 Delphi rounds, the 14 panelists achieved consensus on 50 reasons for readmission; 12 panelists also completed group telephone calls between rounds 1 and 2. Readmissions with diagnoses of infection, sepsis, pneumonia, hemorrhage/hematoma, anemia, ostomy complications, acute renal failure, fluid/electrolyte disorders, or venous thromboembolism were considered associated with surgical quality and accounted for 25 521 of 39 664 readmissions (64%of readmissions; 7.5%of 340 858 index surgical procedures). The proportion of readmissions considered to be not associated with surgical quality varied by procedure, ranging from to 21% (613 of 2331) of readmissions after lower-extremity amputations to 47%(745 of 1598) of readmissions after cholecystectomy. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE One-third of postoperative readmissions are unlikely to reflect problems with surgical quality. Future studies should test whether restricting readmissions to those with specific ICD-9 codes might yield a more useful quality measure.
  • Published In

  • JAMA Surgery  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Mull HJ; Graham LA; Morris MS; Rosen AK; Richman JS; Whittle J; Burns E; Wagner TH; Copeland LA; Wahl T
  • Start Page

  • 728
  • End Page

  • 737
  • Volume

  • 153
  • Issue

  • 8