While the report cards certainly merit a look, it's important to keep a few precautions in mind. For one thing, the ratings are based on very small numbers. A busy cardiac surgeon may perform 200 bypass operations a year. The average death rate for bypass surgery is 2%. That means that a difference of one or two deaths in a year can make a surgeon look very bad or very good. Mortality rates can also be skewed by how sick a patient was before the surgery. Surgeons who operate on sicker patients may end up looking bad, even if their surgical skills are excellent.
An important factor to consider when evaluating a surgeon is how many procedures of a certain type the doctor performs every year. Choose a physician with relatively more experience, especially if you have health issues that could cause problems during the surgery or recovery.
Finally, the quality of the hospital where you have your surgery is just as important as the quality of the surgeon. The best hospitals have key diagnostic tools, clear-cut safety systems to minimize medication mistakes and surgical errors, and a favorable nurse-to-patient ratio.