Caring for Older Surgical Patients: Contemporary Attitudes, Knowledge, Practices, and Needs of General Surgeons and Residents

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Abstract

Objective:

To gain contemporary insights from residents and surgeons regarding the care of older surgical patients.

Background Data:

With worldwide aging, efforts over the past decade have attempted to increase surgeons’ abilities to care for older adults, but a current understanding of attitudes, knowledge, practices, and needs is missing.

Methods:

Between July 2016 and September 2016 we conducted a national Web-based survey sampling all general surgery residents and academic general surgeons using a questionnaire designed and tested for this purpose. Summative scales within each domain (attitudes, knowledge, practices, and needs) were created and compared between groups. Open-ended responses were analyzed with thematic analysis.

Results:

Ninety-four of 172 invited residents (55%) and 80 of 243 invited surgeons (33%) across 14 general surgery programs responded with no missing data. Both groups had favorable attitudes (83% vs 68%, P = 0.02). However, 80% of residents and 76% of surgeons had medium-level knowledge test scores, and few had prior training. Most respondents reported only sometimes performing guideline-recommended practices (71% vs 73%, P = 0.55). Gaps in training and care delivery were identified. Residents wanted focused, high-yield materials and case-oriented practical skills training. Respondents reported further improvements may come from building surgeons’ capacity, enhancing collaboration including perioperative geriatric services, better preoperative assessment, increased adherence to perioperative guidelines, and greater community-based supports to recovery.

Conclusions:

Residents and surgeons have favorable attitudes, but only moderate geriatric-specific knowledge and only some guideline-adherent practices. We identified gaps in training and care delivery with targets for future knowledge translation and quality improvement initiatives.

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