Military Health System Acknowledges Risk

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THE MILITARY’S FAILURE to assure that patients needing complex, high-risk surgical procedures are treated in hospitals with practiced, experienced surgical teams may extend beyond those highlighted in a U.S. News & World Report investigation, officials said Monday.

The U.S. News report, published Thursday, examined data from every Military Health Service hospital worldwide from 2012 through 2016 and found that surgeons at virtually every hospital perform complex procedures in such small numbers that they may be putting their patients at risk.

The procedures include weight-loss surgery, hip replacement, knee replacement, mitral-valve repair, surgery to patch abdominal aortic aneurysms, carotid-artery standing and operations to remove cancers of the esophagus, pancreas and lung.

Col. Donald Jenkins, a retired Air Force surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, said Monday at a meeting of the Defense Health Board that spine surgery, eye surgery and neurosurgery are also risky and warrant a closer look.

“This is really about patient safety,” Jenkins said told the board’s trauma and injury subcommittee. “If there are increased risks, we want to know where they are and what we can do to mitigate [them].”

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