Hospitals that perform at least 375 weight loss operations a year have the best safety record for bariatric surgeries, while those that performed fewer than 75 a year had the highest rate of complications, according to a new study by a hospital rating group.
The complications from bariatric surgeries could include internal bleeding, a collapsed lung and even death.
The study by HealthGrades, an independent health care ratings company, found 100 hospitals in the 19 states it surveyed that it rated as one star, or "poor performers," for weight loss operations.
Another 107 hospitals were rated five-star by the group and 261 hospitals earned three stars. A total of 468 hospitals were studied and the survey reviewed 190,000 bariatric surgery patients treated between 2007 and 2009.
"When you're having a major procedure, a lot of times you choose a facility through word-of-mouth," said Kristin Reed, vice president of hospital rankings for HealthGrades. "But this report gives people objective information to make decisions based on real outcomes."
"We hope that hospitals use this information to compare their performance results" to those from five-star facilities and look for ways to "tighten up their practices," Reed said.
Best and Worst Hospitals for Weight Loss Surgery
At facilities given a five-star rating, like Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Los Angeles or Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, patients were nearly 70 percent less likely to experience complications.
Other five-star-rated hospitals, as rated by HealthGrades, include California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Lowell General Hospital in Boston, Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, and Bayshore Medical Center in Houston.
Patients who went to the top ranked hospitals had shorter hospital stays and a smaller bill, saving on average $6,692 compared to patients who checked into a "1-star" hospital like University of California, Irvine, or Staten Island University.
Other 1-star-rated hospitals include Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Temple Community Hospital in Los Angeles, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
Weight-loss surgery can help people who are obese lose weight by restricting the volume of food the stomach can hold or the amount of calories the body absorbs.
It has also been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes and lower the risk of heart disease. Like any surgery, it comes with risks. However, the average complication rates for all hospitals studied were still very low, ranging from 0.83 percent for hemorrhage to 0.05 percent for death.
Hospitals that performed the most weight-loss surgeries had the best track record, according to the report. Those that treated 375 or more patients per year had an overall complication rate of 5.76 percent compared to 8.69 percent for hospitals that treated 75 patients or fewer.
Surprisingly, patients who opted for surgery at five-star hospitals spent less money on their procedures, a finding that might be linked to shorter stays, as patients returned home from top-rated facilities an average half day earlier.
The report does have limitations, though. Beyond missing data for the other 31 states, it reveals little about why some patients had complications and whether they might have been more susceptible from the start.
"It's really important that patients research the quality of the hospital and ask questions throughout the process," said Reed. "It's OK to ask when you don't understand, and it's OK to speak up when something doesn't seem right."