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How robust are recommended waiting times to pacing after cardiac surgery that are derived from observational data?

BACKGROUND: For bradycardic patients after cardiac surgery, it is unknown how long to wait before implanting a permanent pacemaker. Current recommendations vary and are based on observational studies.

METHODS AND RESULTS: We conducted first a study of patients in our institution, and second a systematic review of studies examining conduction disturbance and pacing after cardiac surgery.Of 5849 operations over a 6 year period, 103 (1.8%) patients required PPM implantation. Only pacing dependence at implant and time from surgery to implant were associated with 30-day pacing dependence. The only predictor of regression of pacing dependence was time from surgery to implant.We then applied the conventional procedure of Receiver Operator Curve (ROC) analysis, seeking an optimal time-point for decision-making. This suggested the optimal waiting time was 12.5 days for predicting pacing dependence at 30 days for all patients (AUC 0.620, p = 0.031) and for predicting regression of pacing dependence in patients who were pacing dependent at implant (AUC 0.769, p < 0.001).However, our systematic review showed that recommended optimal decision-making timepoints were strongly correlated with the average implant timepoint of those individual studies (R = 0.96, p < 0.001). We further conducted modelling which revealed that in any such study, the ROC method is strongly biased to indicate a value near to the median time to implant as optimal.

CONCLUSIONS: When commonly used automated statistical methods are applied to observational data with the aim of defining the optimal time to pacing after cardiac surgery, the suggested answer is likely to be similar to the average time to pacing in that cohort.

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