Reducing low-value preop care for cataract surgery patients


Background: Although multiple randomized, controlled trials have shown that routine preoperative testing prior to cataract surgery has low yield, most Medicare beneficiaries continue to undergo this testing. The American Board of Internal Medicine started the Choosing Wisely campaign to help educate patients and providers about a crisis of unnecessary testing and procedures. This prompted multiple centers to create quality improvement (QI) projects to decrease low-value care.


Dr. Shree Menon

Study design: Observational study of a health system quality improvement initiative.

Setting: Two academic, safety-net hospitals in Los Angeles.

Synopsis: The intervention hospital’s QI nurse underwent an extensive formal QI training program, followed by educating all health care team members involved in preoperative care for cataract patients. New guidelines were created and circulated, with a stated goal of eliminating routine preoperative visits and testing. The control hospital continued their usual preoperative care.

Preoperative visits decreased from 93% to 24% in the intervention group and increased from 89% to 91% in the control group (between-group difference, −71%; 95% confidence interval, –80% to –62%). Chest x-rays, laboratory tests, and electrocardiograms also had a similar decrease in the intervention group.

The intervention hospital lost $42,241 the first year because of training costs but 3-year projections estimated $67,241 in savings. The authors estimated $217,322 savings in 3 years from a societal perspective. Interestingly, the decrease in utilization would lead to financial loss in fee-for-service payment ($88,151 loss in 3 years).

No causal relationship can be established since this was an observational study. Several assumptions were made for the cost analysis. Results are less generalizable since the study was at hospitals in a single city and health system. It is unclear which component of the QI initiative was most effective.

Bottom line: A multidisciplinary, multicomponent initiative can be successful in decreasing low-value preoperative testing of patients undergoing cataract surgery. Although this results in cost savings overall and for capitated payment systems, it would actually cause revenue loss in fee-for-service systems. This emphasizes a potential barrier to eradicate low-value care.

Citation: Mafi JN et al. Evaluation of an intervention to reduce low-value preoperative care for patients undergoing cataract surgery at a safety-net health system. JAMA Intern Med. Published online 2019 Mar 25. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.8358.

Dr. Menon is a hospitalist at Duke University Health System.

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