Background: Outcomes assessment is being used increasingly to shape practice patterns in all areas of medicine. Although outcomes assessment is not a new concept, the widespread application of outcomes measurement for modifying practice is novel. Instead of focusing on results of interventions in highly controlled environments, outcomes studies usually report results as they occur in uncontrolled, real-world environments. Recently, the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) has initiated a society-wide initiative to monitor outcomes in patients undergoing various laparoscopic operations. Methods: Pertinent literature is reviewed as it relates to outcomes assessment. The historical background underpinning the modern interest in outcomes is outlined. Definitions of terms useful for understanding outcomes research are given. The impact of outcomes assessment on minimally invasive surgery, both positive and negative, are examined. The SAGES outcome initiative is introduced. Conclusions: Although outcomes studies usually do not provide information on the causes of observations made, they have gained in popularity because they provide information about patient perceptions of disease, disability, and treatment. Minimally invasive surgical procedures often are reported in terms of outcomes assessment because a controlled clinical trial was rendered impossible by early and widespread application of laparoscopic surgery. The SAGES outcomes initiative will provide the necessary tools for the participation of surgeons in the process of practice profiling.
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