You’ve Been Told You Need Heart Surgery (Video)

Do research on hospitals and heart surgeons first

You've been told you need heart surgery

Maybe you were taken by surprise when your physician said you’d need heart surgery like more than a half million Americans do each year. Like most of my patients, you probably have lots of questions, beginning with “Where?” and “Who?” You owe it to yourself to invest time into planning for your procedure and to remember that quality counts. Just like you’d buy a new house or new car, it’s smart to compare notes about your surgery options.

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Make smart choices about your surgery

First, when choosing the place for your surgery, research shows you’ll have the best outcome at a hospital with the most experience doing your procedure. For example, here at Cleveland Clinic we perform more cardiac surgeries than any place in America.

You can ask your primary care physician and your cardiologist, and ask your friends, but you can also do your homework and research easily-available public information about the hospital to determine its quality. Do a Google search to read articles about hospitals, including ones that mention recognition and awards. You’ll also find websites that rate hospitals, as well as national professional organizations such as the Society of Thoracic Surgery, can be helpful. Even the American Heart Association helps you find a recognized, accredited, and certified hospital near you.

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Understand hospital quality ratings

Additionally, you want to know that your hospital and your doctor have plenty of experience performing your procedure, whether it’s treating coronary disease, aortic disease or valve disease, or state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgery with small incisions. So look for volume or number of procedures performed at the hospital.

Quality at a hospital also refers to:

  • Rates of mortality (death) and morbidity (complications)
  • Length of stay
  • Use of national standards or guidelines for care

These measurements are often referred to quality outcomes, so don’t hesitate to ask for that data.

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Be a proactive patient

There’s no shortage of valuable and accurate information to help you make the wisest decision. You’ll want to feel “good” emotionally about your choices. Once you’ve decided on your hospital and your surgeon, and you know your insurance covers both, be a prepared patient. When you finally meet your new doctor, it’s time for a “heart-to-heart” talk. Bring a list of all your questions to that appointment and of course, you’ll have more after your procedure—and possibly for the rest of your life.


Joseph F. Sabik III, MD

Joseph F. Sabik III, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic and directs the Clinic’s Cardiothoracic Training Program.