Bloodless surgery seems counter-intuitive, but cardiovascular surgeons at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services make it routine in doing their jobs.

Doing so, they say, saves money and lives.

“Whenever you have to use blood transfusions, you increase the chance the patient will die,” said Dr. John Mehall, who is part of the cardiovascular and thoracic surgical program at Penrose. “Not only do we limit donations, we also limit blood loss.”

The practice also reduces the cost of surgery, because providing donated blood can be expensive, he said. He estimates Penrose saved $500,000 this year by using fewer blood products during cardiovascular surgeries.

“We use half the national average for transfusions,” he said.

Mehall is one of only a handful of doctors in Colorado who practice “minimally invasive” surgery as a way to get patients back on their feet as soon as possible. Using robotic tools, he can repair hearts through tiny incisions in the patient’s side.

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He’s been so successful that the coronary bypass surgical program at Penrose has been named in the top 49 nationally by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The award is considered truly prestigious, he says, because it comes from people actually performing the surgery.

“It’s not one of those awards based on Medicare records,” he said. “They have a list of protocols and only 49 other hospitals met those protocols.”

Those protocols include avoiding low mortality rates.

“This is very focused on open-heart surgery,” he said. “Nothing else. It’s the difference between providing good care and providing exceptional care. You have to do that extra 10 percent. It’s tedious, but it’s essential.”

Mehall and the two other surgeons, Dr. Matthew Blum and Dr. Martin Boggs, performed about 600 bypass valve and aortic surgeries last year.

DOI provides inside information

The Colorado Division of Insurance has responded to increased consumer interest in the way it reviews health care plans.

“Generally, the system we use to review health premium rates in Colorado has been understood only by the few people who do the reviews,” said Commissioner Marcy Morrison. “We have received many questions on the process and wanted to make it more transparent.”

To accomplish this, the division has created a new web page,

Colorado is one of the first states to put together information on rates in a way that allows people to understand what is involved in the process.

According to the site, the division looks at factors such as the cost of medical care and prescription drugs, an insurer’s history of rate changes, the financial strength of the company and history of claims.

According to the site, Colorado is right in the middle in terms of health care costs; the state ranks 26th as measured by premiums paid.

The average annual premium for a Colorado family getting coverage through an employer was $13,360 a year, compared to $9,522 five years ago.

There are currently 392 companies providing insurance in Colorado. The top 10 carriers account for 72.3 percent of the market.

ESA opposes ballot measures

Add one more voice to the opposition to Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101: the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency.

The agency’s board passed a resolution opposing the measures based on expectations that they will lead to budget cuts in the 24 municipalities and special districts that provide emergency medical service within the county.

The ESA was created by an intergovernmental agreement between El Paso County and Colorado Springs to provide for emergency ambulance service within the county. The board is made up of elected officials and emergency-management professionals.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at Friend her on Facebook.