How to find the safest pediatric heart surgery program

How to find the safest pediatric heart surgery program

Thousands of babies are born each year with a congenital heart defect (CHD) that often requires surgery within hours or days after their birth. With little to no warning, parents must decide where their child will receive heart care and undergo their surgeries.

In an effort to help parents make the most well-informed decision, experts recommend they research and review a heart program’s surgical outcomes, surgical volumes and their rating by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS).

The STS uses a rating system of one, two or three stars to differentiate between high and low performing pediatric heart surgery programs. A three star designation is the highest rating and indicates that the program has significantly lower-than-expected mortality rates compared to similar programs.

“A three-star rating is the gold standard by which parents should evaluate heart surgery programs,” says Dr. Michel Ilbawi, chief of pediatric heart surgery at Advocate Children’s Heart Institute. “Heart programs with a top-tier rating have proven through their excellent outcomes that they are committed to the health of extremely vulnerable babies and, most importantly, that they are successful in helping children live longer and healthier lives.”

Parents are now able to see the data behind a heart surgery program’s star rating on the STS public reporting website. This site is the first publicly accessible registry of surgical outcomes and was released in January 2015. Prior to that, parents had no way of knowing a hospital’s patient survival rate or how it fared with surgical complications.

It is important to note that public reporting from the STS Congenital Heart Surgery Database (STS CHSD) is completely voluntary. According to the STS, only 33 percent of database participants agree to have their outcomes released to the public.

“The Advocate Children’s Heart Institute team strongly believes in transparency of quality and patient safety results,” says Dr. David Roberson, a medical director and pediatric cardiologist at Advocate Children’s Heart Institute. “Parents need objective information to judge the quality of a hospital and make an informed decision about their child’s care and treatment. They should be alarmed if a hospital does not publicly report all their data.”

While there are many significant outcomes related to pediatric heart surgery, both Drs. Ilbawi and Roberson advise parents to seek out an STS three-star program that performs complex surgeries and has both high volumes and survival rates by procedure.

Advocate Children’s Heart Institute has earned a three star rating from the STS for three consecutive times and publicly reports all surgical outcomes and volumes through the STS and on their website.

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.