Critical Analysis of Consecutive Unilateral Cleft Lip Repairs: Determining Ideal Sample Size

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Cleft surgeons often show 10 consecutive lip repairs to reduce presentation bias, however the validity remains unknown. The purpose of this study is to determine the number of consecutive cases that represent average outcomes. Secondary objectives are to determine if outcomes correlate with cleft severity and to calculate interrater reliability.


Consecutive preoperative and 2-year postoperative photographs of the unilateral cleft lip-nose complex were randomized and evaluated by cleft surgeons. Parametric analysis was performed according to chronologic, consecutive order. The mean standard deviation over all raters enabled calculation of expected 95% confidence intervals around a mean tested for various sample sizes.


Meeting of the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association in 2009.

Patients, Participants:

Ten senior cleft surgeons evaluated 39 consecutive lip repairs.

Main Outcome Measures:

Preoperative severity and postoperative outcomes were evaluated using descriptive and quantitative scales.


Intraclass correlation coefficients for cleft severity and postoperative evaluations were 0.65 and 0.21, respectively. Outcomes did not correlate with cleft severity (P= .28). Calculations for 10 consecutive cases demonstrated wide 95% confidence intervals, spanning two points on both postoperative grading scales. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals narrowed within one qualitative grade (±0.30) and one point (±0.50) on the 10-point scale for 27 consecutive cases.


Larger numbers of consecutive cases (n > 27) are increasingly representative of average results, but less practical in presentation format. Ten consecutive cases lack statistical support. Cleft surgeons showed low interrater reliability for postoperative assessments, which may reflect personal bias when evaluating another surgeon's results.

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