Document Type


Publication Date

May 2007


This article has been peer reviewed. It is the authors' final version prior to publication in Journal of the American College of Surgeons 204(5):917-923, May 2007. The published version is available at . Copyright (c) 2007 by The American College of Surgeons; published by Elsevier, Inc.


Objective: This study was designed to identify quantifiable parameters to track performance improvements brought about by the implementation of a critical pathway for complex alimentary tract surgery.

Background: Pancreaticoduodenectomy (PD) is a complex general surgical procedure performed in varying numbers at many academic institutions. Originally associated with significant perioperative morbidity and mortality, multiple studies have now shown that this operation can be performed quite safely at high volume institutions that develop a particular expertise. Critical pathways are one of the key tools used to achieve consistently excellent outcomes as these institutions. It remains to be determined if implementation of a critical pathway at an academic institution with prior moderate experience with PD will result in performance gains and improved outcomes.

Methods: Between January 1, 2004 and October 15, 2006 135 patients underwent PD, 44 before the implementation of a critical pathway on October 15, 2005, and 91 after. Perioperative and postoperative parameters were analyzed retrospectively to identify those that could be used to track performance improvement and outcomes. Key aspects of the pathway include spending the night of surgery in the intensive care unit with careful attention to fluid balance, early mobilization on post-operative day one, aggressive early removal of encumbrances such as nasogastric tubes and urinary catheters, early post-operative feeding, and targeting discharge for postoperative day 6 or 7.

Results: The pre- and post-pathway implementation groups were not statistically different with regards to age, sex, race, or pathology (malignant versus benign). Perioperative mortality, operative blood loss, and number of transfused units of packed red blood cells were also similar. As compared to the pre-pathway group, the post-pathway group had a significantly shorter postoperative length of stay (13 versus 7 days, P ≤ 0.0001), operative time (435 ± 14 minutes versus 379 ± 12 minutes, P ≤ 0.0001), and in room non-operative time (95 ± 4 minutes versus 76 ± 2 minutes, P ≤ 0.0001). Total hospital charges were significantly reduced from $240,242 ± $32,490 versus $126,566 ± $4883 (P ≤ 0.0001) after pathway implementation. Postoperative complication rates remained constant (44% pre-pathway versus 37% after, P = NS). Readmission rates were not negatively affected by the reduction in length of stay, with a 7% readmission rate prior to implementation and a 7.7% rate after implementation.

Conclusion: Implementation of a critical pathway for a complex procedure can be demonstrated to improve short-term outcomes at an academic institution. This improvement can be quantified and tracked and has implications for better utilization of resources (greater OR and hospital bed availability) and overall cost containment. With a very conservative estimate of 75 pancreaticoduodenectomies per year by this group, this translates to a savings of 450 hospital days and over $8,550,000 in hospital charges on an annual basis. As we enter the "pay for performance" era, institutions will be required to generate such data in order to retain patient volumes, attract new patients, and receive "incentive payments" for high quality services rendered.

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