Appropriateness criteria for surgery improve clinical outcomes in patients with low back pain and/or sciatica

Nadia Danon-Hersch, Dino Samartzis, Vincent Wietlisbach, Fran├žois Porchet, John-Paul Vader
Spine 2010 March 15, 35 (6): 672-83

STUDY DESIGN: Prospective, controlled, observational outcome study using clinical, radiographic, and patient/physician-based questionnaire data, with patient outcomes at 12 months follow-up.

OBJECTIVE: To validate appropriateness criteria for low back surgery.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Most surgical treatment failures are attributed to poor patient selection, but no widely accepted consensus exists on detailed indications for appropriate surgery.

METHODS: Appropriateness criteria for low back surgery have been developed by a multispecialty panel using the RAND appropriateness method. Based on panel criteria, a prospective study compared outcomes of patients appropriately and inappropriately treated at a single institution with 12 months follow-up assessment. Included were patients with low back pain and/or sciatica referred to the neurosurgical department. Information about symptoms, neurologic signs, the health-related quality of life (SF-36), disability status (Roland-Morris), and pain intensity (VAS) was assessed at baseline, at 6 months, and at 12 months follow-up. The appropriateness criteria were administered prospectively to each clinical situation and outside of the clinical setting, with the surgeon and patients blinded to the results of the panel decision. The patients were further stratified into 2 groups: appropriate treatment group (ATG) and inappropriate treatment group (ITG).

RESULTS: Overall, 398 patients completed all forms at 12 months. Treatment was considered appropriate for 365 participants and inappropriate for 33 participants. The mean improvement in the SF-36 physical component score at 12 months was significantly higher in the ATG (mean: 12.3 points) than in the ITG (mean: 6.8 points) (P = 0.01), as well as the mean improvement in the SF-36 mental component score (ATG mean: 5.0 points; ITG mean: -0.5 points) (P = 0.02). Improvement was also significantly higher in the ATG for the mean VAS back pain (ATG mean: 2.3 points; ITG mean: 0.8 points; P = 0.02) and Roland-Morris disability score (ATG mean: 7.7 points; ITG mean: 4.2 points; P = 0.004). The ATG also had a higher improvement in mean VAS for sciatica (4.0 points) than the ITG (2.8 points), but the difference was not significant (P = 0.08). The SF-36 General Health score declined in both groups after 12 months, however, the decline was worse in the ITG (mean decline: 8.2 points) than in the ATG (mean decline: 1.2 points) (P = 0.04). Overall, in comparison to ITG patients, ATG patients had significantly higher improvement at 12 months, both statistically and clinically.

CONCLUSION: In comparison to previously reported literature, our study is the first to assess the utility of appropriateness criteria for low back surgery at 1-year follow-up with multiple outcome dimensions. Our results confirm the hypothesis that application of appropriateness criteria can significantly improve patient outcomes.

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