Three surgeons in masks (Adobe Stock Photos)
Photo Source: Adobe Stock Photos

I have a file full of warranties on things I have purchased. They give me peace of mind. Sometimes, they even save me money. Now, a hospital system, The Geisinger Health System in central Pennsylvania, is providing warranties for heart surgery. You don’t have to pay extra to get your defects related to surgery repaired if they occur within 90 days of the operation. Brilliant idea!

Only in healthcare, with its many perverse financial incentives, do you have a situation where a provider has the opportunity to make more money by providing shoddy care than providing good care. What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. If you are admitted to the hospital and get an infection related to inadequate infection control, treatment of that hospital-acquired infection prolongs your hospitalization and you use more expensive services, such as intravenous antibiotics. In a fee-for-service world, that means more revenue for the hospital. Not only does this generate extra costs, it also fails to provide an incentive to do things right the first time (and every time).

Starting in 2006, Geisinger Health System began exploring how to make elective heart bypass surgery flawless. And, to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, they combined their quality improvement efforts with a 90-day warranty.

Doctors at Geisinger reviewed all of the steps in these elective surgeries and identified 40 as essential to achieve good outcomes. Then, they created procedures to ensure these 40 steps are always followed, no matter who the surgeon or where the operation is performed. Hmmm…sounds like the checklists pilots use to make sure everything is in order before the plane takes off.


Here is the pre-surgical checklist:

1. Preadmission documentation:

a. Document the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association indication for surgery

b. Screening for and consultation regarding IMI (inferior myocardial infarction)/RV (right ventricular) involvement

c. Record treatment options and patient preferences

d. Determine and document the need for anticoagulation with warfarin – Anterior MI (myocardial infarction) or WMA (wall motion abnormality)

e. Record whether the patient is a current user of anticoagulation medications (clopidogrel or warfarin)

f. Screen the patient for risk of stroke

g. Obtain a carotid doppler ultrasound exam (test for stroke), if the test is indicated

h. Obtain a vascular surgery consultation, if indicated

i. Obtain and/or record the ejection fraction

j. Screening for need to use intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP)

k. Screening using epiaortic echo as indicated

l. Document that the patient did not take anticoagulation medications (clopidogrel/warfarin) in the 5 days before the operation

2. Operative documentation:

a. Did the patient receive the correct dosing of beta-blocker (pre-op)

b. Was there correct use of intra-aortic balloon pump (pre-op ⇒ post-op)

c. Did the patient receive appropriate and timely pre-op antibiotics within 60 minutes of incision (if Vancomycin, within 120 minutes)?

d. Record any blood cardioplegia (on-pump patients)

e. Document epiaortic echo of the ascending aorta and the peer consult

f. Obtain and record intra-operative hyperglycemia screening

g. Apply correct insulin management (as indicated; per protocol)

h. Use of LIMA (left internal mammary artery) for LAD (left anterior descending) grafting

3. Post-operative patient documentation:

a. Anteroapical MI within prior 7 days: post-op echo

b. Monitoring for atrial fibrillation for >48 hours

c. Anticoagulation therapy (as indicated)

d. Were antibiotics administered post-op for 24-48 hours

e. Was aspirin given 6 hours post-op or 24 hours post-op

f. Was a beta-blocker given within 24 hours post-op

g. Was a statin administered post-op

h. Document any surgical debridement and revascularization of any sternal wound infection

i. Obtain a plastic surgery consult regarding ongoing management of sternal wound

j. Tobacco screening and counseling

4. Discharge documentation:

a. Referral to cardiac rehabilitation

b. Discharge medications (e.g., beta-blocker)

c. Discharge medication: aspirin

d. Discharge medication: statin

5. Post-discharge documentation:

a. Is the patient correctly taking beta-blocker?

b. Is the patient correctly taking aspirin?

c. Is the patient correctly taking a statin?

d. Is the patient correctly administering anticoagulant?

e. Did patient resume smoking?

f. Is the patient enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation?

Geisinger calls this new program “ProvenCare”. That is because the 40 items on their check list are supported by medical evidence. Imagine that. Design protocols based on evidence and using that evidence to follow them to get better results.

According to a story about Geisinger in the NY Times, the system was only documenting the performance of all 40 steps 59% of the time before implementing ProvenCare. Now, an operation is canceled if any of the pre-operative measures have not been done. Recently, Geisinger’s surgical teams have had scored 100% in following the recommended steps before, during, and after surgery. And it has paid off in terms of reducing complications:

  • Thirty-five percent (35%) of patients had any type of complication after compared with 39% before ProvenCare.
  • Only 16% of patients required supplemental blood products compared with 23% before.
  • Nineteen percent (19%) of patients were not able to be discharged directly to their homes before the program; only 9% after.
  • There were fewer readmissions within 30 days, fewer pulmonary complications, fewer re-operations for bleeding, fewer readmissions to the ICU, and a lower in-hospital death rate (in fact, it was 0 after implementing the program).

So how does the warranty work? Geisinger charges a fixed fee for the surgery and half of the historical costs of related care provided in the ensuing 90 days. If the patient has to be readmitted, Geisinger absorbs the costs. If they do a great job and there are no problems, they have a larger profit. Now that is aligning financial incentives with good patient outcomes.

Geisinger is developing similar approaches for other types of medical care, such as hip replacements. It will be interesting to see how far and how fast they are able to go with this new model. I hope this is not a one-shot wonder. The concept of standing behind your work by offering a warranty could prove to be a powerful driver of healthcare quality improvement and patient safety.

Great work, Geisinger!


  1. Of course, but I think that in the future this will prove to be something covered by the health insurance because stem cells are starting to become more popular by the day.

  2. This brings us close to stem-cells. They are a little expensive, but they have all you need for a healthy body. It’s all worth it!

  3. My grandpa has a pace maker and had to support heart surgery twice, once he was diagnosed and second when doctors needed to change it.

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