The Perception of Complications in Pediatric Spine Surgery: A Comparative Survey of Surgeons, Caregivers and Patients

Pediatr Neurosurg. 2010;46(3):213-20. doi: 10.1159/000319364. Epub 2010 Nov 4.


Background/aims: The perception of a surgical complication may differ between surgeons and patients. In pediatric spine surgery, the perception of the parent or primary caregiver may also differ. In order to better define these relationships, we performed a pilot study surveying a convenience sample of pediatric spinal surgeons, patients and their parent or primary caregiver. We hope to use this initial pilot study as a starting point for future research into this incompletely defined, yet increasingly relevant topic.

Methods: A survey of case vignettes describing a potential perioperative complication was administered to 14 pediatric spine surgeons at the Texas Children's Hospital Pediatric NeuroSpine Clinic from June 1 to July 31, 2009. The same survey, with modified language, was presented to a group of 13 pediatric patients (age range: 12-18 years). In addition, the surveys were separately presented to 34 primary caregivers of pediatric patients evaluated in a spine surgery clinic. The 61 respondents were asked to evaluate the cases and determine if there was a minor, a major or no complication present. Fisher's exact test was employed to evaluate associations of respondent groups and complication severity.

Results: There were no statistically significant differences in the proportion of patients and caregivers rating the presence of complications. In 8 of 13 cases, a majority of surgeons and a majority of patients/caregivers felt a complication was present (all p > 0.06). A greater proportion of surgeons than patients/caregivers felt a complication was present in 2 cases of transient neurological deficit/paraparesis (6 weeks to 6 months; p < 0.04) and 1 case of cosmetically significant pressure sores to the face (p = 0.0002). A greater proportion of patients/caregivers identified a complication in a loss of range of motion after occipitocervical fusion (p < 0.0001) and a loss of motor evoked potentials without a neurological deficit. Amongst those who identified a complication, a greater proportion of surgeons considered the following as a 'major' complication: malpositioned spinal instrumentation with a return to the operating room (p = 0.02); transient new neurological deficit (p < 0.01), and deep wound infection with return to the operating room (p < 0.01). In no scenario did a greater proportion of patients/caregivers consider the complication 'major' compared to surgeons.

Conclusions: In this pilot study, there appear to be differences in how postoperative complications are perceived by surgeons when compared to patients/caregivers. The importance of reconciling such differing opinions through open discussions between surgeons, patients and their families is integral to ensure congruent expectations of planned surgical interventions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgery / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pilot Projects
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / psychology*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion / psychology*
  • Spinal Fusion / statistics & numerical data