Surgeon variation in operating times and charges for emergency general surgery

Ambar Mehta, David T. Efron, Joseph K. Canner, Mariuxi C. Manukyan, Linda Dultz, Christopher Burns, Kent Stevens, Joseph V. Sakran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Patients and hospitals face significant financial burdens from emergency general surgeries (EGSs), which have been termed a public health crisis in the United States. We evaluated hospitalization charges, operating charges, and variations in operating time by surgeon volume for three common EGS procedures. Methods: Using Maryland's Health Services Cost Review Commission database, we performed a retrospective study of laparoscopic appendectomies, laparoscopic cholecystectomies, and open bowel resections performed by general surgeons among adult patients from July 2012 to September 2014. We compared operating charges to total hospitalization charges and quantified variations in operating time for each procedure. We then divided patients into quartiles based on their surgeon's procedure-specific case volume and used hierarchical linear regressions to calculate differences in both operating time and charges between quartiles. Results: We identified 3194 appendectomies, 4143 cholecystectomies, and 1478 bowel resections. Operating charges accounted for one-quarter (26.9%) of total hospitalization charges and widespread variation existed in operating time (appendectomies: median 79 min [interquartile range 66-100 min], cholecystectomies: 96 min [76-125 min], bowel resections: 155 min [117-209 min]). After adjustment, low-volume surgeons relative to high-volume surgeons did not operate statistically longer for appendectomies (+1%, 95% confidence interval [CI]: −2% to 5%) but operated +16% (95% CI: 12%-20%) longer for cholecystectomies (+14 min) and +40% (95% CI: 30%-50%) longer for bowel resections (+59 min). Adjusted median operating charges from low-volume surgeons relative to high-volume surgeons were $554 (26.7%), $621 (22.0%), and $1801 (47.0%) greater for appendectomies, cholecystectomies, and bowel resections, respectively. Conclusions: Operating charges contributed substantially to total EGS hospitalization charges, where low-volume surgeons operated longer and had higher operative charges relative to high-volume surgeons. Reducing variations in operating times and charges represents an opportunity to alleviate the financial burden from EGS procedures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-111
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Charges
  • Emergency general surgery
  • Operating time
  • Physician variation
  • Surgeon volume

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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