Reexamining Free Flap Breast Reconstruction in the Community and University Setting: Is There a Difference?

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This study aimed to compare free flap breast reconstruction outcomes in community and university settings to determine whether the latter is necessary for successful performance of this complex procedure.


Free tissue transfer procedures for breast reconstruction from 1 university and 1 community hospital performed between 2005 and 2011 were included. Procedures were performed by the same 2 surgeons at both institutions. Demographics and outcome measures were evaluated.


Of the 1293 free tissue breast reconstructions performed, 99 (7.7%) were performed in a community hospital and 1194 (92.3%) were performed in a university center. No differences were noted in demographics, comorbidities, or type of free flap reconstruction. However, a number of perioperative characteristics differed. In the community setting, operative time was less (7.3 vs 8.3 hours, P < 0.0001), estimated blood loss was higher (330 vs 248 mL, P < 0.0001), and blood transfusions were more prevalent (24.6% vs 8.3%, P < 0.0001). Furthermore, no significant differences were noted in overall postoperative complications, although a higher rate of abdominal wound infections was noted in the community setting (7.2% vs 2.6%, P = 0.03). The mean number of hospital days was similar between the community and the university (should include value P = 0.44).


Although slight differences were noted in a number of perioperative variables and wound complications, we conclude that the key to a successful free tissue transfer reconstruction is in the expertise of the surgeon and not the setting in which it is performed. Despite its complexity, free flap breast reconstruction can be safely and successfully performed in the community setting.

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