The impact of individual physicians on outcomes after trauma: Is it the system or the surgeon?

Document Type



General Surgery


Background: Benchmarking of mortality outcomes across the country has revealed major differences in survival based on the trauma center at which a patient receives care. The role of the individual surgeon in determining trauma outcomes is unknown. Most believe that differences in outcomes are primarily driven by system- and process-based variations. Our objective was to determine if variation in individual surgeon outcomes could help explain difference in survival after trauma.
Methods: Analysis of trauma patients in the Florida State Inpatient Database from 2010 to 2014. The presence of unique physician identifiers, in addition to hospital identifiers, rendered this data set ideal for performance of multilevel analysis. The amount of the variation attributable to surgeon-level variation was calculated using multilevel random-effects models controlling for patient clinical factors (such as injury severity and comorbidities/age) and hospital-level factors, such as case mix and bed size.
Results: There were 31 hospitals, 175 surgeons, and 65,706 admissions. The overall mortality rate was 5.6%. The average mortality rate across surgeons ranged from 0% to 17.4% (mean 0.4%, standard deviation 1.85). At the individual surgeon level, when controlling for clinical and hospital-level factors, 9% of this variation was attributable solely to the surgeon.
Conclusions: At the state level, we found that differences in outcomes among trauma centers are impacted by individual surgeon-level variation. Implementation of protocolized, system-based trauma care is useful for improving the overall quality of care for injured patients but does not entirely negate surgeon-specific variations in management.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University

Publication (Name of Journal)

Journal of Surgical Research