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Unplanned returns to the operating room: a quality improvement methodology for the comparison of institutional outcomes to national benchmarks

Giorgos Michalopoulos, Anthony L. Mikula, Panagiotis Kerezoudis, Aaron J. Biedermann, Ian F. Parney, Jamie J. Van Gompel, and Mohamad Bydon


Unplanned returns to the operating room (RORs) constitute an important quality metric in surgical practice. In this study, the authors present a methodology to compare a department’s unplanned ROR rates with national benchmarks in the context of large-scale quality of care surveillance.


The authors identified unplanned RORs within 30 days from the initial surgery at their institution during the period 2014–2018 using an institutional documentation platform that facilitates the collection of reoperation information by providers in the clinical setting. They divided the procedures into 28 groups by Current Procedural Terminology and International Classification of Diseases, 9th and 10th Revision codes. They estimated national benchmarks of unplanned RORs for these procedure groups via querying the American College of Surgeons (ACS) National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) registry during the period 2014–2018. Finally, they numerically assessed the unplanned ROR rates at their institution compared with those calculated from the ACS NSQIP registry.


Using the above methodology, the authors were able to classify 12,575 of the cases performed in their department during the period of interest, including 6037 (48%) cranial cases and 6538 (52%) spinal or peripheral nerve cases. Among those, 161 (1.3%) presented with complications that required an unplanned ROR within 30 days from the initial surgery. The respective cumulative unplanned ROR rate in the ACS NSQIP registry during the same timeframe was 3.6%. Among 15 categories of cranial procedures, the cumulative unplanned ROR rate was 1.3% in the authors’ department and 5.6% in the ACS NSQIP registry. Among 13 categories of spinal and peripheral nerve procedures, the cumulative unplanned ROR rate was 1.3% in the authors’ department and 2.8% in the ACS NSQIP registry. Unplanned ROR rates at the authors’ institution were lower than the national average for each of the 28 procedure groups of interest. Yearly analysis of institutional ROR rates for the five most commonly performed procedures showed lower reoperation rates compared with the national benchmarks.


Using an institutional documentation tool and a widely available national database, the authors developed a reproducible and standardized method of comparing their department’s outcomes with national benchmarks per procedure subgroup. This methodology accommodates longitudinal quality surveillance across the different subspecialties in a neurosurgical department and may illuminate potential shortcomings of care delivery in the future.