Advances in peri-operative care

Welcome to our special issue for 2020, which is a unique collaboration between anaesthetists and surgeons. We begin with an editorial from the Editor-in-chief of Anaesthesia, Professor Andrew Klein, and the Editor-in-chief of BJS, Mr Jonothan Earnshaw, which features in both journals. They argue ‘it’s about time’, as surgeons and anaesthetists work together not only in the operating theatre, but also in delivering high-quality peri-operative care and research. We hope these special issues lead to more sharing of ideas, a desire for clinicians to read each other’s journals and more collaboration with all members of the multidisciplinary team for the good of patient care. This month’s blog focusses on the papers published in Anaesthesia, but we call on all readers to study carefully the contents of both supplements in both journals.

Fletcher and Engelman present a broad international perspective on who should care for patients after surgery. In order to tackle this question, one must first distinguish between different patient populations and surgical procedures. They suggest four themes which must be considered to improve postoperative care and patient outcomes, which appear throughout the issue (Fig. 1). Quinlan et al. tackle the problem of persistent postoperative opioid use, and the possible unintended consequences of fast-track surgery, scoring systems and patient satisfaction outcomes measures. Perhaps it is now time for more focus on procedure-specific pain management (including, where appropriate, regional anaesthesia), and an end to applying the World Health Organization’s pain ladder to the management of all pain in the peri-operative period. Levy et al. argue that restoration of function is the holy grail of peri-operative care. A big step on that journey is more collaboration between surgeons and anaesthetists, as well as developing systems for the early identification of patients who are at risk of not achieving restoration of normal homeostatic, physical and psychological function, including independence. 

Figure 1 Diagram of the key themes of postoperative outcome improvement. ICU, intensive care unit; HDU, high-dependency unit; ERAS, enhanced recovery after surgery.

Our first review is a global perspective of the quest for high-quality peri-operative care from Santhirapala et al. They argue that, in high-income nations, improvements come about through a focus on diagnostics, risk-scoring mechanisms and technology. For most of the world’s population, who do not live in high-income nations, these advances are of little relevance. We should, therefore, place more focus in the future on making high-quality peri-operative care equitable. This makes the paper from the African Peri-operative Research Group of vital relevance, and their top 10 priorities for peri-operative research are a must read for all.

The design of processes, equipment and environments to optimise peri-operative performance might be seen by some as ‘common sense’, but many advances in this field of healthcare have arisen from applying well-established principles from disciplines such as psychology, design and engineering. Marshal and Touzell argue it is now time to embed safety science experts within health organisations, as is the case in every other safety critical industry. It has been established previously that we have a natural tendency to overestimate rare risks and underestimate common ones. Wiles et al. find considerable variation in the numerical translation of verbal probability expressions by both patients and clinicians (Fig. 2). They suggest that verbal probability expressions should not be used as part of doctor-patient discussions regarding peri-operative risk. 

Figure 2 Box-and-whisker plots showing the numerical translation of verbal probability expressions by anaesthetists (white columns) and surgeons (grey checked columns). The solid line within the box represents the median, the limits of the box the interquartile range (IQR) and the whiskers represent the range. Outliers were defined as 1.5 9 IQR and are shown by ○.

Between 1999 and 2015, the number of patients aged over 75 years undergoing surgery nearly doubled. This state-of-the-art review discusses outcomes, risk assessment, risk modification, and pre-operative assessment of the older surgical patient. It seems there is now a need to redesign peri-operative pathways for older surgical patients to allow for shared decision making and personalised, evidence-based care. Enhanced postoperative recovery pathways have been continually redesigned and refined over the past 20 years. Kehlet present an overview of the associated key developments and discuss the challenges for the future (Fig. 3).  

Figure 3 Pathophysiological factors to consider for future improvement of enhanced postoperative recovery.

There is no clear consensus on which patients should be admitted pre-emptively to critical care following surgery. Unplanned postoperative critical care admissions are associated with poor outcomes, and this new systematic review from Onwochei et al. aims to describe risk factors for unplanned admissionBoyd-Carson et al. describe the surgical peri-operative factors to consider in emergency laparotomy care. The one factor that stands out is the influence of the national emergency laparotomy database in the UK, which has led to reduced mortality and length of stay. Foss and Kehlet describe the challenges in optimising recovery after emergency laparotomy (Fig. 4). They argue the case for procedure-specific enhanced recovery protocols for such patients, such as is normally seen for elective cases. 

Figure 4 Challenges in optimising pathways in emergency laparotomy.

Proponents of total intravenous anaesthesia (TIVA) cite the anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of propofol as compared with volatile inhalational anaesthesia. This new narrative review from Irwin et al. is a must read for all! They discuss effects on postoperative nausea and vomiting, free radical scavenging, organ protection, pain, and immunity. Will TIVA one day be the technique of choice for all patients undergoing general anaesthesia? Find out more by reading the free full text! Some of our most popular papers have described advances in regional anaesthesia. This review from Albrecht and Chin brings them all together for the first time. Find out all about advances in: safety and performance; fascial plane blocks; and extending block duration, as well as what the future might hold for regional anaesthesia. 

Acute kidney injury is a common complication in surgical patients and is associated with morbidity and mortality. Ostermann et al. describe the impact of surgery and anaesthesia on acute kidney injury, as well as the application of new biomarkers that may one day allow for a more personalised management approach (Fig. 5). Loop diuretics are commonly used in surgical patients with a positive fluid balance, but the impact of their use is uncertain. This new retrospective study of 14,896 critical ill postoperative non-cardiac surgical patients finds no association with overall mortality or the incidence of severe acute kidney injury. In fact, patients that received loop diuretics required a longer duration of postoperative mechanical ventilation. 

Figure 5 Origin and function of different biomarkers for acute kidney injury.

Elsewhere we have reviews of: quality of recovery and long-term functional recovery after surgerythe role of patient-centred outcomes after hospital dischargethe importance of the postoperative recovery teamperi-operative cardiac biomarker screening; and an original article reporting a prospective observational study of the association between genome-wide polymorphisms and chronic postoperative pain. We hope you enjoy this year’s supplement, which is the most complete, accurate and up to date synthesis of evidence, consensus and expert opinion relevant to advances in peri-operative care. More importantly, we hope it contributes to more collaboration between surgeons and anaesthetists.

Join us over on Twitter as we discuss each paper from both journals in depth. See you later this week for #WSM2020

Dr Mike Charlesworth and Professor Andrew Klein

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