Improvements in surgical procedures continue to evolve at a brisk pace. It seems that, every year, incisions become smaller and operations, more streamlined. Certain operations that in the past would only have been performed as inpatient procedures are now being considered for outpatient surgery with same-day discharge.
In the May 2015 issue of JBJS Reviews, Kurd et al. review the ability to perform spine surgery in an ambulatory setting. The authors note that anterior surgical discectomy and fusion is now commonly performed in an ambulatory surgery center and, if patients are carefully selected, lumbar microdiscectomies and laminectomies can be performed in an ambulatory surgery center as well. The authors stress the importance of an established transfer plan to a hospital when needed and the ability to treat neurologic complications if they occur. Most importantly, the ability to treat potentially serious complications in a timely manner is critical.
The rationale for performing spine surgery in an ambulatory surgery center is primarily for the convenience of the patient. The authors note that friendly staff, minimal wait times, efficiency, and perhaps ease of parking allow for ambulatory surgery centers to have overall patient satisfaction rates of up to 92%. In addition, by moving procedures out of a hospital and into ambulatory surgery centers, the cost savings to Medicare alone have been substantial.
Practice guidelines for some of the important decisions regarding patients undergoing anesthesia have been established by the Society for Ambulatory Anesthesia (SAMBA), whose goal is to provide guidance on the use of anesthesia in an ambulatory setting. Recommendations such as avoiding general anesthesia when possible, using propofol for induction and maintenance, avoiding nitrous oxide and other volatile anesthetics, minimizing the use of opioids, and maintaining adequate hydration are among the most important. In addition, SAMBA recommends that all diabetic patients undergoing surgery at an ambulatory surgery center should have a hemoglobin A1C of <7%.
While several reports have established the safety of performing cervical surgical spine surgery in an ambulatory surgery center, concerns still exist regarding the treatment of life-threatening events such as an epidural hematoma. Other rare complications such as vertebral artery injury or esophageal injury require intraoperative consultation with another surgery subspecialty such as vascular surgery or otolaryngology, and such consultations may not be available in an ambulatory surgery center.
The spinal procedure that is most commonly performed on an outpatient basis is a single-level lumbar decompression. Microdiscectomy is also frequently performed. This article reviews the largest prospective series of outpatient lumbar discectomies to date and indicates that the role of proper patient selection is paramount and that comorbidities such as obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a history of stroke increase the risk of needing hospitalization. As the use of the ambulatory setting for spinal surgery continues to evolve, further delineation of the ideal conditions and requirements will become evident. In the meantime, elderly patients and patients with multiple comorbidities may be better managed at a hospital as they are at an increased risk of requiring hospitalization.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD
Editor, JBJS Reviews