How Does Your Surgeon Rate?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Before the Internet age, finding a good doctor usually depended on word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations -- or just sheer luck.

Now there are over a dozen online resources to help patients find physicians in all sorts of medical specialties, from oncology and neurology to podiatry and psychology.

The latest is Surgeon Scorecard, a searchable database put together by the non-profit ProPublica, that estimates complication rates for nearly 17,000 doctors who perform one of eight elective surgeries, including neck and lumbar spinal fusions, as well as hip and knee replacements.

The database – which uses government records collected from Medicare patients – can be searched by location, hospital or surgeon to learn how they performed during these “routine” procedures -- and whether they had complications such as infections, blood clots, internal bleeding or worse.

“It’s long overdue,” Dr. Charles Mick, a former president of the North American Spine Society told ProPublica. “Hopefully, it will be a step toward a culture where transparency and open discussion of mistakes, complications and errors will be the norm and not something that’s hidden.”

ProPublica found that even the best hospitals had surgeons with higher than average complication rates – and that selecting the right doctor could be a matter of life or death. Over 200,000 hospital patients die every year from preventable errors and complications.

Overall, complication rates are low for most surgeons – just 2 to 4 percent depending on the procedure – but a small share of doctors (11%) are responsible for about 25% of the complications. Hundreds of surgeons have complication rates double and triple the national average.

One such doctor is Constantine Toumbis, a surgeon at Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness, Florida. The “Surgeon Scorecard” shows that at least 27 of Toumbis’ patients have either died or suffered serious complications after surgery.

One patient died just days after a spinal fusion -- even though Toumbis had written in her records that the operation went well, according to ProPublica. An autopsy proved otherwise, when the medical examiner found bone fragments in the patient’s neck and signs of an extensive hemorrhage.

Toumbis and Citrus Memorial both declined to comment to ProPublica about the case.

Patient Resources

In addition to the "Surgeon Scorecard," several other searchable databases can be found in the “Patient Resources” section of this website that can help you find a good doctor, healthcare facility or the right treatment.

Vitals can help you locate a doctor with a specific specialty anywhere in the United States, along with patient reviews of that physician.

RateMDs has patient reviews of over a million doctors and healthcare facilities, including some outside the United States.

Healthgrades uses an extensive database and patient reviews to rate doctors based on their experience, complication rates and patient satisfaction.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a database that reveals if your doctor received money from a drug maker or medical device company for consulting, travel expenses, meals, research and promotional services.

Iodine has been called the "Yelp of Medicine." It uses patient reviews to rate the quality, efficacy and side-effects of prescription drugs, including opioid painkillers.

Healthcare Bluebook helps consumers save money on medical expenses -- everything from drugs to surgery to x-rays -- by giving them access to a nationwide database that estimates a "fair price" for whatever they're paying for.