Fourth year for 5-star bariatric rating

Collaboration and expertise are key to developing a bariatric surgery program that tops the state in volumes, low costs – and year after year earns top 5-star ratings.

For a fourth consecutive year, Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital has received HealthGrades® Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award, placing it among the top 5% nationwide for the weight-loss procedure.

“It takes teamwork to build an excellent program,” said Wanda Holderman, chief executive officer of the hospital. “By creating an atmosphere of cooperation and trust, we have become, not only one of the busiest centers in the state, but also the most cost-effective while maintaining the highest quality and consistent top ratings. I’m exceptionally proud of the care that our staff, along with the surgeons, continues to provide for patients.”

Dr. Kelvin Higa, medical director of the hospital’s Bariatric & Minimally Invasive Surgery, added: “Excellence is an elusive destination. While many hospitals have been able to obtain a 5-star rating, few understand that the process of quality improvement must endure to be of real value. To have maintained a 5-star rating for four years in a row speaks to the very heart of our program. It is not about the award or distinction; it is about the commitment and collaboration between Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital and ALSA Medical Group that leads to uncompromised quality standards and excellent patient experience."

For patients, Dr. Higa said, the HealthGrades a five-star rating can add to their comfort and confidence in a hospital and its surgeons, because bariatric surgery patients have a nearly 72.26% lower risk of experiencing complications while in the hospital and go home a half day sooner on average at top-rated hospitals compared to 1-star rated hospitals. Those were the findings from the “Choosing Bariatric Surgery to Improve Overall Health: 2012 HealthGrades Trend Report,” which analyzed data from 201,821 bariatric surgeries from 478 hospitals. Fresno Heart & Surgical was one of only 48 hospitals in the nation to receive a HealthGrades Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award for weight loss procedures delivered between 2008 and 2010.

Fresno Heart & Surgical is the only currently rated 5-star bariatric program in the Fresno area and has, once again earned the Centers of Excellence distinction from the American Society of Metabolic & Bariatric Surgeons. In addition, 11 of the hospital’s nurses are distinguished as “Certified Bariatric Nurses” - the most of any program in California. And because of its surgeons’ expertise, Fresno Heart & Surgical is a referral destination for bariatric revisions and difficult cases.

“We don’t do easy,” said Dr. Higa, who is a clinical professor of surgery at the University California San Francisco and a national faculty member for Bariatric Surgery by the American College of Surgeons. “The resources available to us at the Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital allow us to take on the toughest cases.”

As pioneers in laparoscopic bariatric techniques, Dr. Higa and colleague Dr. Keith Boone are frequently invited to lecture and teach internationally about minimally-invasive techniques. They credit those experiences with improving outcomes for patients here in Fresno. “Collaboration with other bariatric surgeons around the world allows us to stay current with the state-of-the-art and new technologies. Our networking allows us to tap into resources not usually available to most surgeons,” said Dr. Higa.

In addition to causing significant long-term weight loss, bariatric surgery has been shown to control common complications of obesity, including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These benefits improve patients’ quality of life and overall health, and reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, and early death. Bariatric surgery may also reduce future healthcare costs – especially for medication, according to a recent study by Dr. Higa’s colleague Dr. Saber Ghiassi, who worked with Stanford University on the examination of costs.

"Our findings show a significant difference between 5-star hospitals and those performing on the 1-star level for bariatric surgery, especially when it comes to in-hospital complication rates," said Dr. Arshad Rahim, group vice president of Accelerated Clinical Excellence at HealthGrades, and the study’s author. "We’re pleased to identify the hospitals that are setting the national standard for bariatric surgery in order to help patients make informed decisions."

Erin Kennedy reported this story. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@CommunityMedical.org.