SAN FRANCISCO – Performance of more elective colectomies for diverticulitis in recent years does not seem to be preventing the need for emergent or urgent colectomies, investigators reported at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons.
The investigators analyzed data from the Comprehensive Hospital Abstract Reporting System (CHARS), a Washington State inpatient database, for the years 1987-2012.
Results showed that the age- and sex-adjusted rate of elective colectomies for diverticulitis increased from about 7 per 100,000 people to more than 20 per 100,000 people. But the rate of nonelective (emergent or urgent) colectomies for this indication remained fairly stable, if anything, increasing slightly.
“Despite 15 years of evolving guidelines to operate less, we are actually seeing a threefold increase in elective colectomy for diverticulitis. We did not see a decrease in emergency surgery during the same time,” commented lead investigator Dr. Vlad V. Simianu, a research fellow in the department of surgery, University of Washington, Seattle.
Several hypotheses might explain this disconnect, he proposed: a rising incidence of diverticulitis, increasing severity of disease (although data do not support this), or surgeons’ adoption of a lower threshold for elective colectomy. “In fact, if you look at where the biggest climb in elective surgery was, it was sort of in the early 2000s, which was the time contemporaneous to when the first laparoscopic colorectal randomized trials were being published, and training programs were incorporating laparoscopy into their training. That’s really where we see the biggest jump. So it may be that what we are seeing is an increase in this procedure [laparoscopic colectomy], the same as what we saw with laparoscopic cholecystectomy.”
“Whatever you choose ... to believe about what’s driving this, what remains certain going forward is that routine elective colectomy is not supported by the most recent guidelines [from the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons], and actually these guidelines are for the first time recommending that the decision to offer elective surgery be individualized,” Dr. Simianu noted.
“Our group is actually doing some neat work in this space trying to identify which metrics should be used to individualize surgery, so we look forward to sharing that with you in the future,” he added.
Session comoderator Dr. James J. Mezhir of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, asked, “It may be difficult, but are you able to look at general surgeons versus those who are colorectal trained?”
The database does not specify surgeon training, according to Dr. Simianu, who disclosed that he had no relevant conflicts of interest. “What is interesting is that in Washington State, about half the surgery is done laparoscopically, in recent years at least. Whether laparoscopy is lowering the threshold, we know that colorectal surgeons are trained to do more laparoscopic colectomy maybe than their general surgeon counterparts.”
Another state database has provided some additional relevant information, he noted. “When laparoscopy first started being adopted, we saw a spike in right-sided colon surgery, which was previously a pretty rare colectomy for diverticulitis. So it is hard to know who is sort of driving this.”
Dr. Mezhir also wanted to know, “How generalizable is this across the United States? Have you looked at something like the nationwide inpatient sample or some other data set to say whether this is something you are seeing in Washington or is this something across the U.S.?”
Similar national trends have been reported in studies using that database, according to Dr. Simianu. “One of the things they point out is that there is a spike in diverticulitis in the younger population, which is something we are seeing in Washington State as well,” he noted.
Another session attendee noted that patients with acute diverticulitis sometimes have immediate procedures, such as drainage, but then go on to have colectomy not long afterward. Thus, he wondered about misclassification, asking, “Are you capturing it as elective although it’s sorted out as an acute episode?”
“That’s a great question, said another way, are we actually just delaying things into the elective category, as opposed to operating on them emergently?” Dr. Simianu replied. “It’s a little hard to tell. We do know that during this time, rates of percutaneous drainage have gone up. So it’s sort of the same conclusion that we are doing more elective surgery but we are not really preventing complications. But I think the crux of that is when these patients have complications and have emergency surgery, they have it on their first episode, 80%-90% of them. So offering a delayed operation ... to prevent [complications] where the likelihood is highest of having a complication, doesn’t seem to bear out in the data.”