Members of WellPoint’s affiliated health plans who had weight loss surgery at facilities designated as Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery experienced fewer complications and substantially lower infection rates than those treated at non-designated centers, according to a study completed by WellPoint research subsidiary HealthCore, of Wilmington, Del.

Furthermore, the study found that women represented 78 percent of all those undergoing bariatric surgery in 2007. Also, the rate of weight loss surgeries increased by 12 percent from 2006 to 2007, a figure likely caused by an increase in the number of laparoscopic adjustable gastric band procedures, according to the report.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association established the Blue Distinction Centers for Bariatric Surgery program in 2006 as a way to identify and promote use of medical centers with the best outcomes for bariatric surgical procedures.

Comparing health records of 4,479 patients undergoing bariatric procedures in 14 states in 2007, the study found that Blue Distinction centers had 28 percent fewer surgical complications and 60 percent fewer inpatient and outpatient infections than non-designated facilities in the 30-day period following surgery.

Open gastric bypass surgeries had the greatest risk of complications during the 30-day period following surgery, with 19 percent for non-designated centers and 12 percent for designated centers. Complications included hemorrhage, internal bleeding and infections.

"This population-based study shows how important it is for consumers to be well informed when they are choosing where to get their surgery," said Lisa Latts, WellPoint vice president of programs for clinical excellence. "Because the number of facilities offering this service has increased so dramatically, we want to make sure consumers know where they are most likely to have the best outcome."

The number of facilities performing weight loss surgery for members of WellPoint’s affiliated health plans increased by 43 percent from 848 in 2006 to 1,216 in 2007. Furthermore, costs during the follow-up period were also 47 percent lower for patients treated at designated centers compared to other facilities.

[Source: Original press release]