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Standardization of surgeon-controlled variables: impact on outcome in patients with acute cholecystitis.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of standardization of surgeon-controlled variables on patient outcome after cholecystectomy for two cohorts of patients with acute cholecystitis (AC).

SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC), when performed efficiently and safely, offers patients with AC a more rapid recovery and decreases the length of stay, thus reducing the health care utilization. Numerous studies have focused on the characteristics of patients with AC that may predict the conversion of LC to open cholecystectomy. However, analysis of these factors offers little insight for improving the outcome of patients with AC, because patient-controlled variables are difficult to influence. In the present study, treatment variables that were under the surgeon's control were standardized and the effects of these changes on the outcome of patients with AC were quantified.

METHODS: Beginning in August 1997, a standardized treatment protocol was initiated for patients with suspected AC. LC was initiated as early as practical from the time of admission. All operations were performed in a specially equipped and staffed laparoscopic surgery suite, and all patients were supervised by one of two attending surgeons with a special interest in laparoscopic interventions. Two cohorts of patients with AC were retrospectively analyzed: 39 patients from the 12 months before initiation of this protocol (period 1) and 49 patients from the 12 months after its inception (period 2). Medical records were reviewed for demographic, perioperative, and outcome data. Surgical reports were reviewed to ascertain the reason for conversion and whether laparoscopic technical modifications were used.

RESULTS: No significant difference was noted between the groups with regard to patient demographics, clinical presentation, or radiologic or laboratory parameters. After protocol initiation, patients received definitive treatment closer to the time of admission and had a greater percentage of laparoscopically completed cholecystectomies. Furthermore, the patients in period 2 had a significantly decreased postoperative length of stay and hospital charges than the earlier ones. Complications were infrequent and not significantly different between the groups. Two or more laparoscopic technical modifications were used in 95% of the successful LCs during period 2 versus 33.3% during period 1.

CONCLUSIONS: By controlling when, where, and by whom LC for AC was performed, the authors have significantly improved the percentage of cholecystectomies that were completed laparoscopically. This has led to improved outcomes and lower hospital charges for patients with AC at this municipal hospital.

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