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Are Bariatric Centres of Excellence Meeting The Standards of Care?



Anyone familiar with the issue, would readily agree that the actual surgery involved in bariatric surgery is only a small (but undeniably important) technical piece in what is a rather complex treatment for a rather complex chronic disease.

Clearly, this is not exactly how all bariatric surgeons approach or treat their bariatric patients.

Since 2012, the US has a Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program that designates bariatric surgery centers as Centres of Excellence if they meet specified requirements in 7 core standards that include case volume, commitment to quality, appropriate use of equipment and instruments, critical care support, continuum of care, data collection, and continuous quality improvement.

However, as a recent paper by Andrew Ibrahim and colleagues, published in JAMA Surgery, elaborates, despite these quality criteria, there remains a substantial variability in outcomes across designated Bariatric Centres of Excellence.

Based on their retrospective analysis of claims data from 145 527 patients who underwent bariatric procedures, there was a 17-fold variation (ranging from 0.6% to 10.3%) in rates of serious 30-day complications across accredited bariatric centers nationally and up to 9.5-fold variation across individual states.

As the authors note,

“this finding suggests that participation alone in the Center of Excellence Program did not ensure uniform high-quality care….Given that most bariatric procedures are now performed at accredited centers, wide variation among these centers suggests that accreditation alone does not discriminate enough to guide patients to the best centers for care.”

Moreover, they found that poor performing centres were often located close to better performing centres (regression to the mean?). Interestingly, in contrast to what one may suspect, outcomes overall were not related to case volume (perhaps because in order to be a designated Centre of Excellence, all centres needed to have a minimum number of cases per year).

Rather, the authors discuss that poorer outcomes may be largely attributable to varying technical skills of the surgeons as well as inconsistent adherence to accepted bariatric care pathways.

Finally, the authors argue that there is  need to make performance data available to the public, as simply trusting in the “Centre of Excellence” designation by no means guarantees excellent outcomes.

As important as these data may be, it is also important to note that this paper only looked at complications within a 30-day time period following surgery.

As anyone dealing with bariatric patients is well aware, successful outcomes of bariatric surgery(as well as its complications) should be measured in years (if not decades). This is where much of bariatric surgery falls down, as one of the key criteria mentioned above, i.e. “continuum of care” seldom extends beyond the rather brief period of post-surgical discharge. Indeed, in most cases, bariatric patients continue to be prematurely discharged into “the wild” with little ongoing support from health professionals competent in looking after the psychological and medical needs of this population.

None of this takes away from the fact that bariatric surgery is still the most effective long-term treatment for severe obesity – however, clearly there remains substantial room for improvement.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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