Discrepancies Between Patient and Surgeon Expectations of Surgery for Sciatica: A Challenge for Informed Decision Making?

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Study Design.Qualitative study.Objective.The objective of this study was to compare the perceptions of patients and surgeons regarding the risks and benefits of lumbar decompressive surgery for sciatica following a consultation meeting.Summary of Background Data.Evidence regarding pain improvement in patients following lumbar decompressive surgery for sciatica is inconsistent. Given this inconsistency, patients choosing to undergo lumbar decompressive surgery must accept the risks associated with the surgery despite uncertainty regarding benefits. This raises questions as to the nature of informed decision-making for patients choosing to undergo surgery for sciatica.Methods.We undertook a qualitative descriptive study with 12 adult lumbar decompressive surgery candidates and six of their spine surgeons and analyzed data using inductive content analysis.Results.Our analysis revealed that most patients were satisfied with the consultation despite limited understanding of lumbar decompressive surgery. We found discrepancies between patients’ preoperative expectations and understanding of information provided by surgeons and what surgeons believed they had conveyed. Surgeons and patients disagreed on how much information is needed about postsurgical activity modifications and long-term outcomes to make a decision about whether or not to undergo surgery, with patients desiring more information. As a result, for most patients, the decision-making process extended beyond the information provided by surgeons and incorporated information from family members, friends, family doctors, and the internet.Conclusion.Our results highlight misunderstandings between patients and surgeons, particularly in regard to prognosis and activity modifications. Since this information is important for patients choosing whether to undergo a surgical intervention, our study provides guidance to improve informed decisions about sciatica and, potentially, other elective surgeries.Level of Evidence: 4

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