The quality of cardiac surgery remains an issue, as do hospital responses

I’ve been following Team Globe Spotlight’s coverage of a New Hampshire heart surgeon’s malpractice settlements and institutional failure to respond. Some Globe readers may recall a series of similar reports 46 years ago.

These reports documented the dismal mortality results of a Boston-area surgical team — 52% at one hospital, 25% at another, at a time when anything over 5% was considered excessive. A whistleblower brought the situation to the attention of hospital management with no response, and the state health department and state medical society swept it under the rug.

After the Globe revealed the affair, the group’s leader was forced to resign on the eve of his inauguration as president of the American College of Cardiology. Eventually, the surgeons agreed with the state licensing board to cease open-heart surgery.

As the author of these reports, I’ve heard from heart surgeons across the country who have told me – off the record – that this is not an isolated case. Discouragingly, the quality of open heart surgery is still an issue and so is the response of institutions when issues arise.

Richard Knox

Center Sandwich, NH

The author covered medicine and health for the Globe from 1969 to 2000 and for NPR until 2015.