Quality Specialists

Economics 2.0: Are more experienced Heart Surgeons better?

According Economics 2.0’s review of Huckman and Pisano (2006):

WIth each additional operation the surgeon preforms in a clinic, the mortality factor of his or her patients there drops by 0.018 percentage points.  When that doctor performs an operation in another clinic during the same three-month period, patients’ death rates decline by only 0.001.  

Few heart surgeons are employed directly by hospitals.  Most cardiac surgeons work as independent contractors who operate on their patients in a variety of hospitals. It seems that when cardiac surgeons are more comfortable with their surroundings and have more established relationships with the nurses, anesthesiologists, and other support staff in the hospital, performance improves. The authors claim the following:

“The quality of a surgeon’s performance at a given hospital improves significantly with increases in his or her recent procedure volume at that hospital but does not significantly improve with increases in his or her volume at other hospitals. Our findings suggest that surgeon performance is not fully portable across hospitals (i.e., some portion of performance is firm specific). Further, we provide preliminary evidence suggesting that this result may be driven by the familiarity that a surgeon develops with the assets of a given organization.

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