Conference Coverage

Following pelvic floor surgery, patients value functional goals



Following pelvic floor surgery, patients regard failure to achieve functional goals as severe adverse events, according to results of a new study. Such negative reactions occur more frequently as time passes and may be related to incongruent patient expectations, which may in turn affect physician-patient communication.

Doctor with patient Alexander Raths/Fotolia

“We must bridge the gap between expectations and the occurrence of an unanticipated problem. What this study highlights is a need for counseling beyond the traditional complications, and more discussion about the possibility of failure in terms of the things that the patients identify as important,” Brenna McGuire, MD, a resident at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, said while presenting the results at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons.

The work highlights the need to look at outcomes in a different way, said Vivian Sung, MD, who was not involved in the research and was a discussant following the presentation. “Most of our studies are designed with methodology to emphasize efficacy and often secondary outcomes to capture complications and adverse events. But there is a gray area. It’s something that’s evolving, and we’re getting better at,” Dr. Sung, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University and a urogynecologist at Women and Infants Hospital, both in Providence, R.I., said in an interview.

The success of a procedure is typically evaluated by determining incontinence during an office visit, but the problem may not be occurring at that particular moment, and the patient may not be happy with the overall outcome. “Sometimes you can fix one problem, and the other problems become more prominent, or new problems develop. [Incontinence alone is] not a perfect picture or what the patient was envisioning her outcome to be,” Dr. Sung said.

Expectations can potentially be better managed through better patient counseling, but that’s not a simple fix either, she noted. Most surgeons counsel patients on negative outcomes, but adverse events with a 5%-10% probability may fail to make an impression. “Really, the rate is zero or 100%. It’s not that it doesn’t seem like a meaningful complication, it’s just that it doesn’t seem like it will happen to you. And then when it does, it can be very devastating depending on what it is and what your expectation was.”

Dr. McGuire and her associates followed 20 women (mean age, 55 years; 50% non-Hispanic white, 25% Hispanic, 25% Native American) at a single institution in New Mexico who underwent surgeries for pelvic floor disorders. They interviewed each participant before and after surgery, at 4-6 weeks, and 6 months after surgery, asking them to rank adverse events at each time point.

Before surgery, patients expressed concerns about postoperative pain, injury, and catheter issues. At 6-8 weeks, the chief concerns were daily activities, sexual activity, and symptom reduction. At 6 months, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and mental health issues predominated. In other words, concerns migrated from traditional complications to functional outcomes over time.

At the 6-8 week interview, a representative quote was: “It’s the fact that it didn’t work. It’s the fact that I’m still suffering from all the same symptoms.” At 6 months, another quote was: “I hate this so much. It really does impact my life negatively. It affects my work, it affects everything, and makes me very angry.”

Traditional adverse events such as pain and infection dropped in frequency between the preoperative interview and the 6-month interview from 7.5%-10.0% to 2.5%-5.0% by 6 months. However, functional outcomes were a different matter: Concerns about a failed surgery increased from 10% to 25%, sexual dysfunction from 4% to 8%, and effect on daily function from 4% to 11%.

The study was funded by the University of New Mexico. Dr. McGuire and Dr. Sung reported no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: McGuire B et al. SGS 2019, Abstract 01.

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