Individual surgeons’ performance data of limited value, says Atul Gawande

21 May 2015 | Building Leadership & Capability

Internationally renowned health writer and thinker Dr Atul Gawande has warned against reading too much into performance data for individual surgeons.

Dr Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

His warning came in answer to an audience question at an all-day forum for health, disability, aged-care and end-of-life care professionals on Monday 18 May in Wellington. The forum was hosted by the Health Quality & Safety Commission with support from PwC and thanks to the Auckland Writers Festival.

Dr Gawande was asked his view on the current debate about the public reporting of surgeons’ performance data. The debate has been prompted by the Medical Council of New Zealand discussion paper Better Data – the benefits to the profession and the public.

‘I think that public reporting of our results is really important,’ said Dr Gawande, ‘but I also think that there’s a difference between public reporting around individual results and public reporting around an institution’s results. And I think it reflects this confusion both in the public and in our own world about how much of our results is the product of the individual surgeon and how much it’s the product of the whole institution.

‘There’s been a body of work that’s coming out, for example, showing that when you follow surgeons who operate in two different places the results tend to follow the place that they go to rather than the places they go to following the results of the surgeon.

‘For most complex surgery it’s highly dependent on the system you have around the surgeon.’

Last updated 20/12/2016