Choosing between competing options (shunt or endoscopic third ventriculostomy) for the management of hydrocephalus requires patients and caregivers to make a subjective judgment about the relative importance of risks and benefits associated with each treatment. In the context of this particular decision, little is known about what treatment-related factors are important and how they are prioritized in order to arrive at a treatment preference.
The Hydrocephalus Association electronically distributed a survey to surgically treated hydrocephalus patients or their families. Respondents rated the importance of various surgical attributes in their decision-making about treatment choice, and also indicated their preference in hypothetical scenarios involving a trade-off between potential risks and benefits of treatment. Rank-order correlations were used to determine whether certain predictor variables affected the rating of factors or hypothetical treatment choice.
Eighty percent of 414 respondents rated procedural risks, minimizing repeat surgery, and improving long-term brain function as being very or extremely important factors when deciding on a treatment; 69% rated the need to implant a permanent device similarly. Parent-respondents rated procedural risks higher than patient-respondents. A majority of respondents (n = 209, 54%) chose a procedure with higher surgical risk if it meant that implantation of a permanent device was not required, and respondents were more likely to choose this option if they discussed both treatment options with their surgeon prior to their initial intervention (Spearman rho 0.198, p = 0.001).
Although only 144 of 384 total respondents (38%) chose a less established operation if it meant less repeat surgery, patient-respondents were more likely to choose this option compared to parent-respondents (Spearman rho 0.145, p = 0.005). Likewise, patient-respondents were more likely than parent-respondents to choose an operation that involved less repeat surgery and led to worse long-term brain function (Spearman rho 0.160, p = 0.002), an option that was chosen by only 23 (6%) of respondents overall.
This study is the first exploration of patient/parental factors that influence treatment preference in pediatric hydrocephalus. Procedural risks, minimizing repeat operations, and the desire to maximize long-term cognitive function appeared to be the most important attributes that influenced treatment decisions that the survey respondents had made in the past. Patients and/or their caregivers appear to see some inherent benefit in being shunt free. It appears that fear of multiple revision operations may drive treatment choice in some circumstances.