Quantitative analysis of a spinal surgeon's learning curve for scoliosis surgery

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The aim of this study was a quantitative analysis of a surgeon's learning curve for scoliosis surgery and the relationship between the surgeon's experience and post-operative outcomes, which has not been previously well described.

Patients and Methods

We have investigated the operating time as a function of the number of patients to determine a specific pattern; we analysed factors affecting the operating time and compared intra- and post-operative outcomes. We analysed 47 consecutive patients undergoing scoliosis surgery performed by a single, non-trained scoliosis surgeon. Operating time was recorded for each of the four parts of the procedures: dissection, placement of pedicle screws, reduction of the deformity and wound closure.


The median operating time was 310 minutes (interquartile range 277.5 to 432.5). The pattern showed a continuous decreasing trend in operating time until the patient number reached 23 to 25, after which it stabilised with fewer patient-dependent changes. The operating time was more affected by the patient number (r =- 0.75) than the number of levels fused (r = 0.59). Blood loss (p = 0.016) and length of stay in hospital (p = 0.012) were significantly less after the operating time stabilised. Post-operative functional outcome scores and the rate of complications showed no significant differences.


Take home message: We describe a detailed learning curve for scoliosis surgery based on a single surgeon's practise, providing useful information for novice scoliosis surgeons and for those responsible for training in spinal surgery.

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