Learning of thoracoscopic radical esophagectomy: how can the learning curve be made short and flat?

I Ninomiya, H Osugi, N Tomizawa, T Fujimura, M Kayahara, H Takamura, S Fushida, K Oyama, H Nakagawara, I Makino, T Ohta
Diseases of the Esophagus: Official Journal of the International Society for Diseases of the Esophagus 2010, 23 (8): 618-26
Attainment of proficiency in video-assisted thoracoscopic radical esophagectomy (VATS) for thoracic esophageal cancer requires much experience. We have mastered this procedure safely under the direction of an experienced surgeon. After adoption of the procedure, the educated surgeon directed induction of this surgical procedure at another institution. We evaluated the efficacy of instruction during the induction period by comparing the results at the two institutions in which VATS had been newly induced. We defined the induction period as the time from the beginning of VATS to the time when the last instruction was carried out. From January 2003 to December 2007, 53 patients were candidates for VATS at Kanazawa University (institution 1). Of these, 46 patients underwent curative VATS by a single operator. We divided this period into three parts: the induction period of VATS, post-induction period, and proficient period when the educated surgeon of institution 1 directed the procedure at Maebashi Red Cross Hospital (institution 2). At institution 1, 12 VATS were scheduled, and nine procedures (75%) (group A) including eight instructions were completed during the induction period (from January 2003 to August 2004). Thereafter, VATS was performed without instruction. In the post-induction period, nine VATS were scheduled, and eight procedures (88.8%) (group B) were completed from September 2004 to August 2005. Subsequently, 32 VATS were scheduled, and 29 procedures (90.6%) (group C) were completed during the proficient period (from September 2005 to December 2007). The surgeon at Maebashi Red Cross Hospital (institution 2) started to perform VATS under the direction of the surgeon who had been educated at institution 1 from September 2005. VATS was completed in 13 (76.4%) (group D) of 17 cases by a single surgeon including seven instructions during the induction period at institution 2 from September 2005 to December 2007. No lethal complication occurred during the induction period at both institutions. We compared the results of VATS among four groups from the two institutions. There were no differences in the background and clinicopathological features among the four groups. The number of dissected lymph nodes and amount of thoracic blood loss were similar in the four groups (35 [22-52] vs 41 [26-53] vs 32 [17-69] vs 29 [17-42] nodes, P = 0.139, and 170 [90-380] vs 275 [130-550] vs 220 [10-660] vs 210 [75-543] g, P = 0.373, respectively). There was no difference in the duration of the thoracic procedure during the induction period at the two institutions. However, the duration of the procedure was significantly shorter in the proficient period of institution 1 (group C: 266 [195-555] minutes) than in the induction period of both institutions (group A: 350 [280-448] minutes [P = 0.005] and group D: 345 [270-420] mL [P = 0.002]). There were no surgery-related deaths in any of the groups. The incidence of postoperative complications did not differ among the four groups. Thoracoscopic radical esophagectomy can be mastered quickly and safely with a flat learning curve under the direction of an experienced surgeon. The educated surgeon can instruct surgeons at another institution on how to perform thoracoscopic esophagectomy. The operation time of thoracoscopic surgery is shortened by experience.

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