Patients with suspected adhesive small bowel obstruction have shorter hospitalization times and fewer complications when admitted directly to a surgical service, rather than being admitted to the medical hospitalist service, according to researchers at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Although adhesive small bowel obstruction (ASBO) is a potential surgical emergency, it is increasingly managed by medical hospitalists because of the presumption that these patients will probably not require surgery. Dr. Phillip A. Bilderback and his colleagues investigated whether the value of care delivered in the medical hospital service (MHS) was comparable to the value of care delivered in the surgical service (SS) (J Am Coll Surg. 2015;221:7-13).
The researchers reviewed 555 consecutive admissions with presumed ASBO from 2008 to 2012, grouping them according to admitting service (MHS vs. SS) and whether surgery had been performed. Group medians were then compared using multivariate analysis to identify variables independently associated with increased length of stay (LOS), time to operation (TTO), and hospital charges.
Median LOS among patients whose ASBO resolved nonoperatively was similar for those on SS and MHS (2.85 days vs. 2.98 days; P = .49). But patients requiring surgery who were admitted to MHS had longer median LOS, compared with those admitted to SS (9.57 days vs. 6.99 days; P = .002), and higher median charges ($38,800 vs. $30,100; P = .025). Operative MHS patients also had a greater median TTO than did operative SS patients (51.72 hours vs. 8.4 hours; P less than .001).
The researchers noted that a possible explanation for this observed different in outcomes included variability in the knowledge and experience of providers in managing ASBO and in the use of modern processes of care. “For example, surgeons may make timelier decisions to operate based on the findings of CT scans or response to a water-soluble contrast medium challenge than do internists, who may tend to rely on outdated processes of care, such as repeated abdominal radiographs,” they suggested.
In the absence of findings suggestive of ischemia or strangulation, recent evidence points to the safety of nonoperative management of patients with ASBO, even in the setting of high-grade or complete obstruction, they noted. Accordingly, there has been a shift toward initial admission of patients with ASBO to medical hospitalist services. But although this approach is equally safe, in terms of clinical outcomes, ASBO is “managed in a more cost-effective fashion with primary admission to an SS, particularly if the patients require an operation,” the researchers stated.
The researchers concluded that “admitting all patients suspected of having an ASBO to the SS or implementing an institution-wide pathway that defines appropriate triage and elements of care has the potential to dramatically reduce LOS and reduce waste in those requiring operation, thereby reducing overall health care expenditures and improving value for patients and the health care system as a whole.”
The study authors had no relevant financial conflicts.