From the Journals

Trauma surgeons up for emergency pediatric appendectomy



When a pediatric patient with acute appendicitis presents at the ED, a pediatric surgeon may not be immediately available to take the case. But a study of 220 children who had emergency appendectomies found only minor differences in outcomes between those operated on by a trauma surgeon and those by a pediatric surgeon.

“These results may be useful in optimizing the surgical workforce to care for a community,” said Derek B. Wall, MD, FACS, and Carlos Ortega, MD, FACS, of NorthShore University HealthSystem in Skokie, Ill. They noted that trauma surgeons in their group were asked to cover appendicitis in children aged 5-10 years because of the surgeons’ in-house availability and because of the difficulty pediatric surgeons often had in getting to the hospital in a timely fashion.

A child is shown in a hospital bed, along with an IV drip ©drpnncpp/

The study was done at Evanston (Ill.) Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center in the northern suburbs of Chicago. This trauma group were all board certified in general surgery, but none had received formal pediatric surgery fellowship training.

The study, published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Surgery, evaluated appendectomies in children aged 5-10 years from January 2007 to December 2016. A total of 138 were performed by trauma surgeons, while 82 were done by pediatric surgeons. The patients operated on by trauma surgeons were more likely to be female (47% vs. 32%; P = .03), get to surgery more quickly (214 minutes from diagnosis vs. 318 minutes; P = .01), have a laparoscopic operation (70% vs. 55%; P = .04), have a shorter operation (40 minutes vs. 49 minutes; P less than .0001), and leave the hospital sooner (32 hours vs. 41 hours; P less than .0001). They were also more likely to be transferred from an outside hospital (60% vs. 37%; P less than .001) and less likely to be diagnosed without imaging (2% vs. 26%; P less than .0001). The study found no significant differences in complications.

Among the 31 patients who had perforated appendix, the difference in length of stay was even more pronounced: 4 days in the trauma surgery group (n = 21) versus 7.2 days in the pediatric surgery patients.

The investigators explained the rationale for focusing on the population aged 5-10 years: “We focused on a younger, narrower age range than that in previous studies, allowing comparison of outcomes in children of the same age and with equal rates of perforated appendicitis.” They noted that patients younger than age 5 are “well accepted as the domain of the pediatric surgeon,” while children over than 10 are more frequently managed by general surgeons.

At Evanston Hospital, pediatric surgeons had typically performed appendectomy in the targeted age group. But, “they cannot always quickly get to our hospital because of distance and city traffic,” the study authors noted. Therefore, the trauma surgeons were asked to cover for this population group.

They acknowledged the population size of the study was probably too small to identify any significant difference in complication rates between the two surgery groups, especially for patients who had had perforated appendicitis. Also, because of the study’s retrospective nature, most of the pediatric surgery cases were from an earlier period; therefore, later cases may have reflected advances in minimally invasive technology. “Perhaps surgical practice in a more recent time period contributes more to outcomes than specialty,” investigators wrote.

Dr. Wall and Dr. Ortega reported having no financial relationships.

SOURCE: Wall DB, Ortega C. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2018:85;118-21.

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