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Calling in staff and preparing the operating room for an urgent surgical procedure is a significant draw on hospital resources and disrupts care of other patients. It has been common practice to treat open fractures on an urgent basis. HTA methods can be applied to examine this prioritization of care, just like they can be applied to the acquisition of drugs and devices.
Our center completed a rapid systematic review of guidelines, systematic reviews, and primary clinical evidence, on urgent surgical debridement and stabilization of open fractures of long bones (“urgent” being defined as within six hours of the injury) compared to surgical debridement and reduction performed at a later time point. Meta-analyses were performed for infection and non-union outcomes and the GRADE system was used to assess the strength of evidence for each conclusion.
We found no published clinical guidelines for the urgency of treating open fractures. A good systematic review on the topic was published in 2012. We found six cohort studies published since completion of the earlier review. The summary odds ratio for any infection in patients with later treatment was 0.97 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.78–1.22, sixteen studies, 3,615 patients) and for deep or “major” infections was 1.00 (95% CI 0.74–1.34, nine studies, 2,013 patients). The summary odds ratio of non-union with later treatment was 0.95 (95% CI 0.65–1.41, six studies, 1,308 patients). There was no significant heterogeneity in any of the results (I-squared = 0 percent) and no apparent trends in the results as a function of study size or publication date. We graded the strength of each of the conclusions as very low because they were based on cohort studies where the treating physician could elect immediate treatment for patients with severe soft-tissue injuries or patients at risk of complications. This raises the risk of spectrum bias.
Default urgent scheduling of patients with open fractures for surgical debridement and stabilization does not appear to reduce the risk of infection or fracture non-union. Based on this information, our surgery department managers no longer schedule patients with open fractures for immediate surgery unless there are specific circumstances necessitating it.