Critical differences between elective and emergency surgery: identifying domains for quality improvement in emergency general surgery

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Abstract

Objective.

The objective of our study was to characterize providers' impressions of factors contributing to disproportionate rates of morbidity and mortality in emergency general surgery to identify targets for care quality improvement.

Background.

Emergency general surgery is characterized by a high-cost burden and disproportionate morbidity and mortality. Factors contributing to these observed disparities are not comprehensively understood and targets for quality improvement have not been formally developed.

Methods.

Using a grounded theory approach, emergency general surgery providers were recruited through purposive-criterion–based sampling to participate in semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Participants were asked to identify contributors to emergency general surgery outcomes, to define effective care for EGS patients, and to describe operating room team structure. Interviews were performed to thematic saturation. Transcripts were iteratively coded and analyzed within and across cases to identify emergent themes. Member checking was performed to establish credibility of the findings.

Results.

A total of 40 participants from 5 academic hospitals participated in either individual interviews (n = 25 [9 anesthesia, 12 surgery, 4 nursing]) or focus groups (n = 2 [15 nursing]). Emergency general surgery was characterized by an exceptionally high level of variability, which can be subcategorized as patient-variability (acute physiology and comorbidities) and system-variability (operating room resources and workforce). Multidisciplinary communication is identified as a modifier to variability in emergency general surgery; however, nursing is often left out of early communication exchanges.

Conclusion.

Critical variability in emergency general surgery may impact outcomes. Patient-variability and system-variability, with focus on multidisciplinary communication, represent potential domains for quality improvement in this field.

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