Context: In patients with severe secondary peritonitis, there are 2 surgical treatment strategies following an initial emergency laparotomy: planned relaparotomy and relaparotomy only when the patient's condition demands it ("on-demand"). The on-demand strategy may reduce mortality, morbidity, health care utilization, and costs. However, randomized trials have not been performed.
Objective: To compare patient outcome, health care utilization, and costs of on-demand and planned relaparotomy.
Design, setting, and patients: Randomized, nonblinded clinical trial at 2 academic and 5 regional teaching hospitals in the Netherlands from November 2001 through February 2005. Patients had severe secondary peritonitis and an Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE-II) score of 11 or greater.
Intervention: Random allocation to on-demand or planned relaparotomy strategy.
Main outcome measures: The primary end point was death and/or peritonitis-related morbidity within a 12-month follow-up period. Secondary end points included health care utilization and costs.
Results: A total of 232 patients (116 on-demand and 116 planned) were randomized. One patient in the on-demand group was excluded due to an operative diagnosis of pancreatitis and 3 in each group withdrew or were lost to follow-up. There was no significant difference in primary end point (57% on-demand [n = 64] vs 65% planned [n = 73]; P = .25) or in mortality alone (29% on-demand [n = 32] vs 36% planned [n = 41]; P = .22) or morbidity alone (40% on-demand [n = 32] vs 44% planned [n = 32]; P = .58). A total of 42% of the on-demand patients had a relaparotomy vs 94% of the planned relaparotomy group. A total of 31% of first relaparotomies were negative in the on-demand group vs 66% in the planned group (P <.001). Patients in the on-demand group had shorter median intensive care unit stays (7 vs 11 days; P = .001) and shorter median hospital stays (27 vs 35 days; P = .008). Direct medical costs per patient were reduced by 23% using the on-demand strategy.
Conclusion: Patients in the on-demand relaparotomy group did not have a significantly lower rate of death or major peritonitis-related morbidity compared with the planned relaparotomy group but did have a substantial reduction in relaparotomies, health care utilization, and medical costs.
Trial registration: http://isrctn.org Identifier: ISRCTN51729393.