Factors Associated With Provision of Nonbeneficial Surgery: A National Survey of Surgeons

Sarah I. Zaza, Christopher J. Zimmermann, Lauren J. Taylor, Elle L. Kalbfell, Lily Stalter, Karen Brasel, Robert M. Arnold, Zara Cooper, Margaret L. Schwarze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: We tested the association of systems factors with the surgeon's likelihood of offering surgical intervention for older adults with life-limiting acute surgical conditions. Background: Use of surgical treatments in the last year of life is frequent. Improved risk prediction and clinician communication are solutions proposed to improve serious illness care, yet systems factors may also drive receipt of nonbeneficial treatment. Methods: We mailed a national survey to 5200 surgeons randomly selected from the American College of Surgeons database comprised of a clinical vignette describing a seriously ill older adult with an acute surgical condition, which utilized a 2×2 factorial design to assess patient and systems factors on receipt of surgical treatment to surgeons. Results: Two thousand one hundred sixty-one surgeons responded for a weighted response rate of 53%. For an 87-year-old patient with fulminant colitis and advanced dementia or stage IV lung cancer, 40% of surgeons were inclined to offer an operation to remove the patient's colon while 60% were inclined to offer comfort-focused care only. Surgeons were more likely to offer surgery when an operating room was readily available (odds ratio: 4.05, P<0.001) and the family requests "do everything" (odds ratio: 2.18, P<0.001). Conclusions: Factors outside the surgeon's control contribute to nonbeneficial surgery, consistent with our model of clinical momentum. Further characterization of the systems in which these decisions occur might expose novel strategies to improve serious illness care for older patients and their families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-411
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023


  • critical care
  • end of life
  • ethics
  • nonbeneficial surgery
  • palliative care
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'Factors Associated With Provision of Nonbeneficial Surgery: A National Survey of Surgeons'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this