Thank you for your article. You are one of the few blogs that that has identified this important fact — First, let’s be clear — they’ve not published “complication rates.” However, you only have it partly correct with this statement — They used ICD-9 codes, billing information, and a panel of doctors and experts to decide if a patient had a complication related to a recent surgery
What ProPublica has done is that they have used these codes to identify if the the re-admission within 30 days (or death during the initial hospitalization) was related to the elective procedure. However, on their website, ProPublica consistently uses the term “complication rate” from surgery, rather than “re-admission rate within 30 days of surgery.” They have misled their users to believe that they are presenting the actual rates of complications after the elective surgery. ProPublica does not have any data on actual complication rates after these elective procedures.
We have published a blog outlining how this can mislead knee replacement patients about the complication rates of their surgeons.
Dr. Brian Hatten