Quality leaders are concerned that creation of multi-hospital health systems may lead to surgeons traveling to and from distant hospitals and thus to more fragmented surgical care and worse outcomes for their patients. Despite this concern, little empirical data exist on outcomes of multi-site versus single-site surgeons.
Using national Medicare data, we assessed trends in the number of multi-site vs. single-site surgeons from 2011 to 2016. We performed a multivariable regression analysis to compare overall 30-day mortality differences, stratified by system and rural status, and examined trends over time.
The number of multi-site surgeons and the percentage of multi-site surgeons per hospital decreased over time (24.2%–19.0%; 44.3%–41.8%). Overall, multi-site surgeons had lower 30-day mortality than single-site surgeons (2.24% vs 2.50%, P < 0.01). When stratified by system status, multi-site surgeons performed better in-system (2.47% vs 2.58%, P < 0.01); by rural status, multi-site surgeons had lower mortality in non-rural hospitals (2.42% vs 2.51%, P < 0.01). The statistically significant but small mortality advantage of multi-site versus single-site surgeons decreased over time, such that by 2016 there was no difference in outcomes between multi-site and single-site surgeons.
For the majority of study years, multi-site surgeons had lower 30-day mortality than single-site surgeons, but this trend narrowed until outcomes were equivalent by 2016. Surgeons operating at multiple hospitals can provide surgical care to patients without any evidence of increased mortality.