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Carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis and treatment: a survey of members of the American Society For Surgery of the Hand.

PURPOSE: In 2007 and 2009, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons released Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) for diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) based upon review of the literature. The lack of consistently high-level evidence resulted in several recommendations, some strongly supported, some weakly supported, and others controversial. We postulated that a survey of American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) members would provide insight into practice patterns among hand surgeons treating CTS and demonstrate the extent to which the CPG influenced practice behavior.

METHODS: A multiple-choice questionnaire including detailed commonly observed clinical scenarios was developed, pre-tested, and approved by our institutional review board and the ASSH Web site committee chair. An anonymous electronic survey was emailed to ASSH members.

RESULTS: Surveys were sent to 2,650 eligible ASSH members, and 27% responded. Seventy-two percent would advise a patient to have carpal tunnel release (CTR) if the patient had both classic history/examination of CTS and complete relief following cortisone injection. Forty-seven percent responded that in this scenario electrodiagnostic testing (EDX) is rarely or never necessary to recommend CTR. Seventy-nine percent of respondents were at least slightly more likely to order EDX based on CPG recommendations. Of these respondents, 57% replied that this was because of potential medicolegal ramifications.

CONCLUSIONS: Although the CPG recommended EDX before surgery, and although most responding ASSH members use EDX to advise CTR, a majority answered that a supporting history and physical examination alone can be sufficient to recommend surgery, that a positive response to a cortisone injection can be sufficient indication for CTR, that EDX is not necessary in all cases of CTS, and that they would perform CTR in face of normal EDX if cortisone temporarily resolved symptoms. Among respondents more likely to order EDX based on the CPG, 57% answered that it was in some circumstances due to potential medicolegal ramifications.

TYPE OF STUDY/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Economic and decision analysis III.

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