Patient complaints are associated with a number of surgical and medical outcomes. Despite high rates of patient complaints regarding spine surgeons and efforts to study patient complaints across medicine and surgery, few studies have analyzed the complaints of patients undergoing spinal surgery. The authors present a retrospective analysis that, to their knowledge, is the first study to directly investigate the complaints of spine surgery patients in the postoperative period.
Institutional records were reviewed over a 5-year period (2015–2019) to identify patients who underwent spine surgery and submitted a complaint to the institution’s ombudsman’s office within 1 year of their surgery. A control group, comprising patients who underwent spine surgery without filing a complaint, was matched to the group that filed complaints by admission diagnosis and procedure codes through propensity score matching. Patient demographic and clinical data were obtained by medical record review and compared between the two groups. Patient complaints were reviewed and categorized using a previously established taxonomy.
A total of 52 patients were identified who submitted a complaint after their spine surgery. There were 56 total complaints identified (4 patients submitted 2 each) that reported on 82 specific issues. Patient complaints were most often related to the quality of care received and communication breakdown between the healthcare team and the patient. Patients who submitted complaints were more likely to be Black or African American, have worse baseline health status, and have had prior spine surgery. After their surgery, these patients were also more likely to have longer hospital stays, experience postoperative complications, and require reoperation.
Complaints were most often related to the quality of care received and communication breakdown. A number of patient-level demographic and clinical characteristics were associated with an increased likelihood of a complaint being filed after spine surgery, and patients who filed complaints were more likely to experience postoperative complications. Improving communication with patients could play a key role in working to address and reduce postoperative complaints. Further study is needed to better understand patient complaints after spine surgery and investigate ways to optimize the care of patients with risks for postoperative complaints.