Do individual surgeon volumes affect outcomes in thoracic surgery?

Sebron Harrison, Tiany Sun, Mohamed K. Kamel, Corbin Cleary, Brendon M. Stiles, Nasser K. Altorki, Art Sedrakyan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: Minimum volume standards for thoracic surgical procedures have been advocated to improve outcomes. However, such standards are controversial within the thoracic surgery literature, and the methodology to determine cut points between high-and low-volume hospitals has been criticized. Furthermore, while multiple studies have examined hospital volume and its relationship with outcomes, there have been very few attempts to study this issue from the perspective of the individual thoracic surgeon. The aim of this study was to determine if surgeon volume is associated with differences in outcomes using a large state-wide database. METHODS: The study utilized the New York State Department of Health Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative (SPARCS) data for analysis. Patients who underwent major lung resections including sublobar resection, lobectomy and pneumonectomy from 1995 to 2014 were included and were categorized into 3 subgroups based on the extent of resection. Patient characteristics included age, gender, race, insurance and comorbidities. Surgeon information was obtained by using a unique identifier. Average annual surgical volumes of sublobar resection, lobectomy and pneumonectomy were calculated separately and grouped into 3 categories based on the tertiles. Demographic data and comorbidities were compared between the various volume groups to analyse the resulting complications. Primary outcomes were in-hospital mortality and 30-day readmission. RESULTS: There were a total of 99 576 major lung resections performed between 1995 and 2014 in the SPARCS database. Among these, the majority were wedge or segmental resections (n = 54 953, 55.2%) followed by lobectomy (n = 40 421, 40.6%) and pneumonectomy (n = 4202, 4.2%). In-hospital mortality was significantly greater for low-volume surgeons compared to high-volume surgeons for all resection groups. Additionally, low-volume surgeons had higher 30-day readmission rates for patients undergoing lobectomy and pneumonectomy. However, low-volume surgeons as a group were more likely to operate on black patients and patients with Medicaid, and black race was an independent predictor of mortality across all resection groups. The vast majority of surgeons performing lobectomy (89.5%) were in the low-volume group. CONCLUSIONS: Low-volume surgeons had higher rates of in-hospital mortality compared to their high-volume counterparts. However, the vast majority of surgeons performing lobectomy (89.5%) were in the low-volume group, and low-volume surgeons operated on higher percentages of black patients. These findings suggest that minimal volume standards would significantly impact the current delivery of thoracic surgery in the US.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)770-777
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Cardio-thoracic Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Lung resection
  • Surgeon volume
  • Thoracic surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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