Last week, ProPublica launched Surgeon Scorecard, our new database showcasing the complication rates of nearly 17,000 surgeons nationwide. For the first time, patients can now weigh surgeons’ past performance before going under the knife and doctors themselves can see where they stand relative to their peers.

Our Surgeon Scorecard team – Marshall Allen, Olga Pierce and Sisi Wei – joined ProPublica’s Eric Umansky on the podcast to discuss how they tackled this ambitious, all-hands-on-deck project.

Highlights from their conversation:

  • The lack of incentive for hospitals to track their own surgeons’ complication rates. It’s difficult to do and also very uncomfortable politically, Allen says. Surgeons are powerful, they bring in a lot of revenue to the institution, and there’s the risk that they’ll take their cases to another hospital. (7:38)
  • What makes a compelling data story: “If there are relentless numbers in a story, it's often a sign that your data is not as strong as you think it is,” Pierce says. “The best data stories are ones where you've reached some sort of interesting finding and that is a launching plane for the rest of the story.” (21:15)
  • How all ProPublica apps, including Surgeon Scorecard, have “a near view and a far view,” offering not only a look at broader trends but specific data on specific localities that journalists can use to power their reporting. “There are going to be so many local stories that we can't focus on,” Wei says. “But other journalists can use our app to do that.” (25:06)

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher, and use our Surgeon Scorecard app to look up your doctor.

More from our lead reporters, Allen and Pierce, in their interviews below: