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Returns to Operating Room After Colon and Rectal Surgery in a Tertiary Care Academic Medical Center: a Valid Measure of Surgical Quality?

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Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery



Returns to the operating room (ROR) have been suggested as a marker of surgical quality. Increasingly, quality and value metrics are utilized for reimbursement as well as public reporting to inform health care consumers. We sought to understand the etiology of ROR and assess the validity of simple ROR as a quality metric.


This was a single referral center retrospective review of all colon and rectal operations between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. Surgical Systems Nurse + was constructed and validated at our institution for classifying ROR as either an unplanned return to the OR, planned return due to complications, planned staged return, or an unrelated return. The primary outcome was the classification of ROR and total number of ROR within 30 days.


Of the 2389 colorectal patients who underwent surgery between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014; 214 returned to the operating room within 30 days (9.0%). Among the 214 patients, there were a total of 232 ROR with an average of 1.1 ROR per patient (range 1–4); 90 (38.8%) were unplanned ROR, 49 (21.1%) were planned returns due to complications, 92 (39.7%) were planned staged returns, and 1 (0.4%) were unrelated ROR. The most common reason for an unplanned ROR was an anastomotic leak (n = 21; 9.1%). Overall, unplanned reoperations were rare events (n = 90/2389; 3.8%), largely comprised of patients experiencing an anastomotic abscess or leak (n=21/2389; 0.9%).


In a high volume and complexity academic colon and rectal surgery practice, RORs within 30 days occurred after 10.4% of cases. Unplanned ROR were relatively rare and most commonly associated with an anastomotic leak. Since the majority of ROR were planned-staged returns, overall rate of ROR should be questioned as a metric of surgical quality. Perhaps, the anastomotic leak rate may be a better metric to monitor for quality improvement efforts.

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All authors were involved in study design, data analysis, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Amy L. Lightner.

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Poster presentation at ASCRS May 2016, Los Angeles, CA

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Lightner, A.L., Glasgow, A.E., Habermann, E.B. et al. Returns to Operating Room After Colon and Rectal Surgery in a Tertiary Care Academic Medical Center: a Valid Measure of Surgical Quality?. J Gastrointest Surg 21, 1048–1054 (2017).

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