Background and methods:

Volume of surgery and specialization may affect patient outcome. Articles examining the effects of one or more of three variables (hospital volume of surgery, surgeon volume and specialization) on outcome (measured by length of hospital stay, mortality and complication rate) were analysed. Reviews, opinion articles and observational studies were excluded. The methodological quality of each study was assessed, a correlation between the variables analysed and the outcome accepted if it was significant.


The search identified 55 391 articles published between 1957 and 2002; 1075 were relevant to the study, of which 163 (9 904 850 patients) fulfilled the entry criteria. These 163 examined 42 different surgical procedures, spanning 13 surgical specialities. None were randomized and 40 investigated more than one variable. Hospital volume was reported in 127 studies; high-volume hospitals had significantly better outcomes in 74·2 per cent of studies, but this effect was limited in prospective studies (40 per cent). Surgeon volume was reported in 58 studies; high-volume surgeons had significantly better outcomes in 74 per cent of studies. Specialization was reported in 22 studies; specialist surgeons had significantly better outcomes than general surgeons in 91 per cent of studies. The benefit of high surgeon volume and specialization varied in magnitude between specialities.


High surgeon volume and specialization are associated with improved patient outcome, while high hospital volume is of limited benefit. Copyright © 2007 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.