Background Anastomotic leak is a major source of morbidity in colorectal operations and has become an area of interest in performance metrics. It is unclear whether anastomotic leak is associated primarily with surgeons’ technical performance or explained better by patient characteristics and institutional factors. We sought to establish if anastomotic leak could serve as a valid quality metric in colorectal operations by evaluating provider variation after adjusting for patient factors. Methods We performed a retrospective cohort study of colorectal resection patients in the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative. Clinically relevant patient and operative factors were tested for association with anastomotic leak. Hierarchical logistic regression was used to derive risk-adjusted rates of anastomotic leak. Results Of 9,192 colorectal resections, 244 (2.7%) had a documented anastomotic leak. The incidence of anastomotic leak was 3.0% for patients with pelvic anastomoses and 2.5% for those with intra-abdominal anastomoses. Multivariable analysis showed that a greater operative duration, male sex, body mass index >30 kg/m2, tobacco use, chronic immunosuppressive medications, thrombocytosis (platelet count >400 × 109/L), and urgent/emergency operations were independently associated with anastomotic leak (C-statistic = 0.75). After accounting for patient and procedural risk factors, 5 hospitals had a significantly greater incidence of postoperative anastomotic leak. Conclusion This population-based study shows that risk factors for anastomotic leak include male sex, obesity, tobacco use, immunosuppression, thrombocytosis, greater operative duration, and urgent/emergency operation; models including these factors predict most of the variation in anastomotic leak rates. This study suggests that anastomotic leak can serve as a valid metric that can identify opportunities for quality improvement.
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