Learning that your child has a congenital heart defect is scary. Knowing that your child may need one or more surgeries requires you to make some important decisions, including where to seek care. Here are some questions you can ask to help you choose wisely.
What Is My Child’s Specific Diagnosis?
Your doctors will likely explain things to you in simple terms, and for good reason -- understanding is key. But for the purpose of comparing hospitals, ask for the proper medical name of the diagnosis (for example, hypoplastic left heart syndrome) so you can learn more on your own later.
What Is the Scientific Name of My Child’s Procedure? And What Is Its STAT Category?
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) uses a ranking system of "STAT categories" to group types of surgeries based on their complexity, with 1 being the lowest risk and 5 being the highest risk. Once you know the STAT category of your child’s procedure, review this STS website for information about how well your hospital performs that category of surgery.
For example, the Norwood procedure, which treats hypoplastic left heart syndrome and similar conditions, is a STAT category 5 procedure. According to STS data from January through December 20181, for the most complex cases (STAT categories 4 and 5), Duke’s mortality rates were lower than the STS average rate of 116 participating institutions in North America.
How Many Pediatric Heart Surgeries Does this Hospital Perform Each Year?
Research shows that hospitals and surgeons who perform more surgeries tend to have better outcomes. This is especially true for higher-complexity cases (STAT categories 4 and 5). In general, you should be looking for a high-volume program, meaning surgeons perform at least 250 relevant procedures annually. In 2018, the Duke team performed 298 congenital heart surgeries -- the highest annual volume in Duke’s history.
How Many Pediatric Congenital Heart Surgeons Do You Have and Are They Board Certified?
Hospitals that only have one pediatric heart surgeon on staff may not be able to meet your needs. One person can only cover so many patients simultaneously, especially on weekends or holidays. Duke has three board-certified congenital heart surgeons who are skilled in -- and in some cases have pioneered -- advanced surgical techniques for repairing children’s hearts.