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Ishaan Ashwini Tewarie, Alexander F. C. Hulsbergen, Victor Volovici, and Marike L. D. Broekman

Neurosurgical guidelines are fundamental for evidence-based practice and have considerably increased both in number and content over the last decades. Yet, guidelines in neurosurgery are not without limitations, as they are overwhelmingly based on low-level evidence. Such recommendations have in the past been occasionally overturned by well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), demonstrating the volatility of poorly underpinned evidence. Furthermore, even RCTs in surgery come with several limitations; most notably, interventions are often insufficiently standardized and assume a homogeneous patient population, which is not always applicable to neurosurgery. Lastly, guidelines are often outdated by the time they are published and smaller fields such as neurosurgery may lack a sufficient workforce to provide regular updates. These limitations raise the question of whether it is ethical to use low-level evidence for guideline recommendations, and if so, how strictly guidelines should be adhered to from an ethical and legal perspective. This article aims to offer a critical approach to the ethical and legal status of guidelines in neurosurgery. To this aim, the authors discuss: 1) the current state of neurosurgical guidelines and the evidence they are based on; 2) the degree of implementation of these guidelines; 3) the legal status of guidelines in medical disciplinary cases; and 4) the ethical balance between confident and critical use of guidelines. Ultimately, guidelines are neither laws that should always be followed nor purely academic efforts with little practical use. Every patient is unique, and tailored treatment defined by the surgeon will ensure optimal care; guidelines play an important role in creating a solid base that can be adhered to or deviated from, depending on the situation. From a research perspective, it is inevitable to rely on weaker evidence initially in order to generate more robust evidence later, and clinician-researchers have an ethical duty to contribute to generating and improving neurosurgical guidelines.

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Alexander F. C. Hulsbergen, Sandra C. Yan, Brittany M. Stopa, Aislyn DiRisio, Joeky T. Senders, Max J. van Essen, Stéphanie M. E. van der Burgt, Timothy R. Smith, William B. Gormley, and Marike L. D. Broekman

OBJECTIVE

The value of CT scanning after burr hole surgery in chronic subdural hematoma (CSDH) patients is unclear, and practice differs between countries. At the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, Massachusetts, neurosurgeons frequently order routine postoperative CT scans, while the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU) in the Netherlands does not have this policy. The aim of this study was to compare the use of postoperative CT scans in CSDH patients between these hospitals and to evaluate whether there are differences in clinical outcomes.

METHODS

The authors collected data from both centers for 391 age- and sex-matched CSDH patients treated with burr hole surgery between January 1, 2002, and July 1, 2016, and compared the number of postoperative scans up to 6 weeks after surgery, the need for re-intervention, and postoperative neurological condition.

RESULTS

BWH patients were postoperatively scanned a median of 4 times (interquartile range [IQR] 2–5), whereas UMCU patients underwent a median of 0 scans (IQR 0–1, p < 0.001). There was no significant difference in the number of re-operations (20 in the BWH vs 27 in the UMCU, p = 0.34). All re-interventions were preceded by clinical decline and no recurrences were detected on scans performed on asymptomatic patients. Patients’ neurological condition was not worse in the UMCU than in the BWH (p = 0.43).

CONCLUSIONS

While BWH patients underwent more scans than UMCU patients, there were no differences in clinical outcomes. The results of this study suggest that there is little benefit to routine scanning in asymptomatic patients who have undergone surgical treatment of uncomplicated CSDH and highlight opportunities to make practice more efficient.

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Alexander F. C. Hulsbergen, Francesca Siddi, Malia McAvoy, Benjamin T. Lynch, Madeline B. Karsten, Brittany M. Stopa, Joanna Ashby, Jack McNulty, Marike L. D. Broekman, William B. Gormley, Scellig S. D. Stone, Benjamin C. Warf, and Mark R. Proctor

OBJECTIVE

Postoperative routine imaging is common after pediatric ventricular shunt revision, but the benefit of scanning in the absence of symptoms is questionable. In this study, the authors aimed to assess how often routine scanning results in a change in clinical management after shunt revision.

METHODS

The records of a large, tertiary pediatric hospital were retrospectively reviewed for all consecutive cases of pediatric shunt revision between July 2013 and July 2018. Postoperative imaging was classified as routine (i.e., in the absence of symptoms, complications, or other direct indications) or nonroutine. Reinterventions within 30 days were assessed in these groups.

RESULTS

Of 387 included shunt revisions performed in 232 patients, postoperative imaging was performed in 297 (77%), which was routine in 244 (63%) and nonroutine in 53 (14%). Ninety revisions (23%) underwent any shunt-related procedure after postoperative imaging, including shunt reprogramming (n = 35, 9%), shunt tap (n = 10, 3%), and a return to the operating room (OR; n = 58, 15%). Of the 244 cases receiving routine imaging, 241 did not undergo a change in clinical management solely based on routine imaging findings. The remaining 3 cases returned to the OR, accounting for 0.8% (95% CI 0.0%–1.7%) of all cases or 1.2% (95% CI 0.0%–2.6%) of cases that received routine imaging. Furthermore, 27 of 244 patients in this group returned to the OR for other reasons, namely complications (n = 12) or recurrent symptoms (n = 15); all arose after initial routine imaging.

CONCLUSIONS

The authors found a low yield to routine imaging after pediatric shunt revision, with only 0.8% of cases undergoing a change in management based on routine imaging findings without corresponding clinical findings. Moreover, routine imaging without abnormal findings was no guarantee of an uneventful postoperative course. Clinical monitoring can be considered as an alternative in asymptomatic, uncomplicated patients.