Bariatric Surgery Centers of Excellence - Why They Matter

Reviewed by Christine Ren Fielding, MD, FACS

Where you have your weight loss surgery can be as important as who performs it. The bariatric surgeon must have the necessary skill and experience, and the center must be well-equipped to care for individuals having a bariatric surgery procedure such as gastric bypass surgery or gastric banding with Lap Band or Realize Band. Your choice of medical institution may also affect your insurer's coverage decisions.

One simple way to evaluate an institution is to ask if it is designated as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

The ASMBS program designates surgeons, hospitals, and freestanding outpatient facilities, or surgicenters, as Centers of Excellence. The designation is administered by Surgical Review Corporation. More than 750 surgeons and 400 facilities in the United States carry this distinction. The designation is awarded to both the surgeon and facility.

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ASMBS Center of Excellence Criteria

To receive this designation, a center goes through an extensive approval process, including an onsite inspection of the facility. The stringent certification criteria stress safety, proficiency and volume. Research has shown that bariatric surgery outcomes are better in high-volume hospitals — that is, those that perform higher numbers of these surgeries.

The ASMBS Center of Excellence criteria include the following:

  • Hospitals must perform at least 125 bariatric surgeries per year. Surgicenters must perform at least 100 bariatric surgeries per year.
  • Bariatric surgeons at these Centers of Excellence must have performed at least 125 bariatric surgeries during their career and must continue to perform 50 surgeries per year.
  • Centers of Excellence must be staffed by a multidisciplinary bariatric team including surgeons, nurses and other consultants.
  • All centers must pass a rigorous onsite inspection.
  • All centers must report their long-term outcomes to the Bariatric Outcomes Longitudinal Database (BOLD). The information gathered in this database is used to analyze the safety and benefits of bariatric surgery.
  • All centers must be re-evaluated with an onsite inspection every three years.

Centers of Excellence and Bariatric Surgery Cost

The decision on where to have surgery also affects bariatric surgery cost. Many insurance companies will only cover bariatric surgeries that are performed in centers designated as Centers of Excellence. Medicare, the U.S. government health plan for people 65 and older, reimburses for bariatric surgeries performed at ASMBS Bariatric Surgery Centers of Excellence, as well as those performed at medical centers designated Level 1 Bariatric Surgery Centers by the American College of Surgeons. The requirements are similar for both certification processes.

During your consultation with a bariatric surgeon, ask if the procedure will be performed at a Center of Excellence. Check with your insurer before booking your surgery to determine whether your plan places any restrictions on where your surgery is performed. Start the process now.