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Potential Patient Harms from Misinterpretation of Reported Surgical Outcomes

A new study found the understanding of a publicly reported surgical-complication website is often prone to misinterpretation by the general population and may lead to patient harm from a financial aspect. The study, published in BJU International, sought to determine how the general public interprets surgical complication rates presented from a publicly available online surgical-rating website. Participants of an in-person electronic survey were presented with a representative output from an online surgeon-rating website and were asked to choose from three statistically equivalent surgeons for a hypothetical medical decision. Researchers then suggested that their insurance company would only cover one surgeon and probed their willingness to pay to switch surgeons for a small chance of lowering the risk of a complication. Researchers quantified the characteristics of those willing to switch, the degree of misinterpretation, and the subsequent potential patient harms. Most participants said they were willing to pay out-of-pocket expenses to switch to a statistically equivalent surgeon. Those who were willing to pay to switch surgeons were more likely to be older, poorer, previously had cancer, and misinterpreted the data. Those who were willing to pay out-of-pocket expenses were more inaccurate in their estimation of surgeon complication rates, and on average were willing to pay $6,494.

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