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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Making the programs especially desirable: Surgical errors in babies' treatment at a Boston teaching hospital

A Harvard teaching hospital in Boston just announced that it has suspended its program of heart surgery for children, just after making serious "technical errors" in surgery affecting two babies. One baby suffered neurological damage, and was transferred to Children's Hospital. The other is still at the same hospital, weeks after the March surgery, and is recovering. The physician hospital spokesman said that "patient privacy concerns" prevented him from describing the surgical errors in more detail.

State health officials recommend that hospitals perform at least about 25 adult heart operations a month, but they do not set a standard for pediatric heart surgery. The hospital where these errors occurred performed an average of only four or five of these operations a month. By contrast, surgical teams at Boston Children's Hospital perform about 90 of these operations each month.

Practice makes near-perfect for surgical teams, as it does for everyone else.

Dr. Peter Manning, director of cardiothoracic surgery at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said that cardiac surgery can be lucrative and prestigious for hospitals, making the programs especially desirable for hospitals.

Advice to parents considering surgery for their children: Get your child to a hospital with a surgeon and surgical team who perform that specific operation frequently.

Read a story about appropriately assertive parents’ preferences in a teaching hospital. Thanks to Liz Kowalczyk for the source story in the Boston Globe on April 17.

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