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Patients Had Fewer Infection Rates, Fewer Complications at Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery(R), According to HealthCore Study

Surge in number of facilities offering weight loss surgery, more people choosing laparoscopic surgery

WILMINGTON, Del., April 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Medical centers offering surgical weight loss programs have increased dramatically over the past few years, and it's more important than ever to know which ones produce the best results.

Members of WellPoint's affiliated health plans undergoing weight loss surgery at facilities designated as Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery(R) had fewer complications and dramatically lower infection rates than those treated at non-designated centers, according to a study completed by HealthCore, WellPoint's health outcomes research subsidiary.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association created the Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery program in 2006 to identify and promote use of medical centers with the best outcomes for bariatric surgical procedures.

Blue Distinction centers had 28 percent fewer surgical complications and 60 percent fewer inpatient and outpatient infections than non-designated facilities in the 30-day period following surgery, according to the HealthCore study, which compared health records of 4,479 patients undergoing bariatric procedures in 14 states in 2007.

Open gastric bypass surgeries had the greatest risk of complications--19 percent for non-designated centers and 12 percent for designated centers in the 30-day period following surgery. Complications include conditions such as hemorrhage, internal bleeding and infections.

"This population-based study shows how important it is for consumers to be well informed when they are choosing where to get their surgery," said Dr. Lisa Latts, WellPoint vice president of programs for clinical excellence. "Because the number of facilities offering this service has increased so dramatically, we want to make sure consumers know where they are most likely to have the best outcome."

The number of facilities performing weight loss surgery for members of WellPoint's affiliated health plans soared--by 43 percent--from 848 in 2006 to 1,216 in 2007.

Costs during the follow-up period were also lower for patients treated at designated centers, with the greatest difference observed for open gastric bypass procedures, according to the HealthCore study.

"The average follow-up costs for open gastric bypass 30 days after surgery were 47 percent lower for Blue Distinction Centers as compared to other centers," said Andrea DeVries, research operations director for HealthCore. "This corresponds to the finding that Blue Distinction Centers had fewer complications."

In other trending information on WellPoint affiliated health plans' members, HealthCore noted that women are more likely to get the surgery, making up 78 percent of all those undergoing bariatric surgery in 2007. The rate of weight loss surgeries increased by 12 percent from 2006 to 2007, pushed by an increase in the number of laparoscopic adjustable gastric band procedures. That also changed the ratio of inpatient to outpatient procedures, with outpatient surgeries rising from 10 percent of all procedures in 2006 to 20 percent in 2007.

"Several studies have determined that overall weight loss and how quickly a patient loses weight differ based on the weight loss procedure performed," Latts said. "Patients should make the decision about the procedure that's best for them in consultation with their physician."

Obesity is widely recognized as a major contributor to health risks. Bariatric surgery is considered a tool to help severely obese patients lose weight and is typically used in conjunction with a program of nutritional and exercise counseling.

About the Blue Distinction program

Participating providers for Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery(R) are given recognition for offering high quality services and an incentive to maintain or improve quality outcomes for patients. Healthcare providers that apply and meet the criteria are awarded the designation of Blue Distinction. Healthcare providers not meeting criteria are given feedback regarding recommended areas for improvement.

Working in collaboration with expert physicians and medical organizations, a survey tool was created requesting data on structure, process, and outcome measures such as procedure volume, mortality, care team, and patient follow-up care. The Blue Distinction designation process is transparent, and the measures are publicly available at, along with how to find Blue Distinction Centers nationwide.

About the study

The study compared 30-day, 90-day and 6-month outcomes for 4,479 patients undergoing bariatric procedures in 2007. The study included WellPoint affiliated health plans' members in the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia. In total, 437 facilities were included in the study with 2,310 members treated at designated centers and 2,169 treated at non-designated centers. The study included the following procedures: laparoscopic band, laparoscopic gastroenterostomy, open gastroenterostomy, open gastric bypass, and laparoscopic gastroplasty.

The trending information about facility increases, inpatient and outpatient procedures, and increase in surgeries was based on data from overall affiliated health plan membership from 2006 to 2007.

About HealthCore

HealthCore, based in Wilmington, Del., is the clinical outcomes research subsidiary of WellPoint. HealthCore has a team of highly experienced researchers including physicians, biostatisticians, pharmacists, epidemiologists, health economists and other scientists who study the "real world" safety and effectiveness of drugs, medical devices and care management interventions. HealthCore offers insight on how to best use this data and communicates these findings to health care decision-makers to support evidence-based medicine, product development decisions, safety monitoring, coverage decisions, process improvement and overall cost-effective health care. For more information, go to

SOURCE HealthCore and WellPoint, Inc
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