The Correlation Between Case Total Work Relative Value Unit, Operative Stress, and Patient Frailty: Retrospective Cohort Study

Katherine M. Reitz, Patrick R. Varley, Nathan L. Liang, Ada Youk, Elizabeth L. George, Myrick C. Shinall, Paula K. Shireman, Shipra Arya, Edith Tzeng, Daniel E. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Assess the relationships between case total work relative value units (wRVU), patient frailty, and the physiologic stress of surgical interventions. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Surgeon reimbursement is frequently apportioned by wRVU. These subjective, procedure-specific valuations generated by physician survey estimate the intensity and time for typical patient care services. We hypothesized wRVU would not adequately account for patient-specific factors, such as frailty, that modify the required physician work, regardless of procedural complexity. METHODS: Using National and Veterans Affairs Surgical Quality Improvement Programs (2015-2018), we evaluated the correlation between case total wRVU, patient frailty (risk analysis index) and physiologic surgical stress (operative stress score). RESULTS: Of 4,111,371 (86%) cases, the correlation between total wRVU and operative stress was moderate [ρs = 0.587 (95% confidence interval, 0.586-0.587)], but negligible with frailty ρ = 0.177 (95% confidence interval, 0.176-0.178)]. Very high operative stress procedures [n = 34,047 (1%)] generated a mean total wRVU of 55.1 (standard deviation, 12.9), comprising 7%, 2%, and 1% of thoracic, vascular, and general surgical cases, respectively. Very frail patients [n = 152,535 (4%)] accounted for 9% of thoracic, 9% of vascular, 4% of general, 5% of urologic, and 4% of neurologic surgical cases, generating 21.0 (standard deviation, 12.4) mean total wRVU. Some nonfrail patients undergoing low operative stress procedures [n = 60,128 (2%)] nonetheless generated the highest quintile wRVU; these comprised >15% of plastic, gynecologic, and urologic surgical cases. CONCLUSIONS: Surgeon reimbursement correlates with operative stress but not patient frailty. The total wRVU does not adequately reflect patient-specific factors that increase the physician workload required to render optimal care to complex patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-645
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'The Correlation Between Case Total Work Relative Value Unit, Operative Stress, and Patient Frailty: Retrospective Cohort Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this