Background: Retinal detachments are usually considered to be a surgical emergency. However, there are additional risks and costs for unnecessary emergency surgeries. The purpose of this study is to evaluate whether the conventional wisdom for treating all retinal detachments as emergencies needs to be re-examined.
Methods: Forty-eight patients who had an emergency scleral buckle and 89 patients who had a scheduled procedure were randomly selected from 884 consecutive patients who had a primary scleral buckling procedure during a 4 1/2-year period. The medical records of each patient were used to obtain detailed information related to prognosis. The visual acuity measurements of each patient, taken 6 months after the procedure, were obtained from the records of the ophthalmologist following the patient. Linear regression analysis was used to compare the final visual outcome for patients who had emergency surgery with patients who had scheduled surgery after taking into account patient factors related to prognosis.
Results: Patients selected for emergency surgery had better visual prognoses than scheduled patients but had the same risk of systemic complications and the same extent of detachment if the macula was not involved. None of the 18 patients with an attached macula experienced macular involvement while awaiting scheduled surgery. There were no differences between emergency and scheduled patients in ocular or systemic complications, rate of reattachment, rate of decreased visual acuity after surgery, visual outcome adjusted for prognosis, or, since 1985, length of hospital stay. A greater cost was incurred for the patients having emergency surgery due to difference in pay scales for support personnel.
Conclusions: Because the study is not large and the patients were not randomized to treatment, the results are not definitive. However, they suggest that emergency surgery is unnecessary for many patients with a detached retina.