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Quality of heart surgery still a problem, as is hospitals’ responses

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

Those reports documented a Boston-area surgical team’s dismal mortality results — 52 percent in one hospital, 25 percent in another, at a time when anything over 5 percent was deemed excessive. A whistle-blower called hospital leadership’s attention to the situation without any response, and the state health department and state medical society swept it under the rug.

After the Globe broke the story, the head of the group 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 licensure board to cease open-heart surgery.


As the author of those reports, I heard from heart surgeons around the nation who told me — off the record — that this was no isolated case. It’s discouraging that the quality of open-heart surgery is still a problem and that so is the response of institutions when problems come to light.

Richard Knox

Center Sandwich, N.H.

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