Variation in recommendation for surgical treatment for compressive neuropathy

J Hand Surg Am. 2013 May;38(5):856-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2013.02.008. Epub 2013 Apr 3.


Purpose: It is our impression that there is substantial, unexplained variation in hand surgeon recommendations for treatment of peripheral mononeuropathy. We tested the null hypothesis that specific patient and provider factors do not influence recommendations for surgery.

Methods: Using a web-based survey, hand surgeons recommended surgical or nonsurgical treatment for patients in 2 different scenarios. Six elements of the first scenario (symptoms, circumstances, mindset, diagnosis, objective testing, and expectations) had 2 possibilities that were each independently and randomly assigned to each rater. For the second scenario, 2 different scenarios were randomly assigned to each rater. Multivariable logistic regression sought factors associated with a recommendation for surgery.

Results: A total of 186 surgeons of the Science of Variation Group completed a survey regarding recommendation of surgery for 2 different patients based on clinical scenarios. Recommendations for surgery did not vary significantly according to provider characteristics. For the various elements in scenario 1, recommendation for surgery was more likely for patients who were self-employed and continued to work and who had objective electrodiagnostic abnormalities. For the 2 vignettes used in scenario 2, a recommendation for surgery was associated with abnormal electrophysiology.

Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that-at least in a survey setting-surgeons prefer to offer peripheral nerve decompression to patients with abnormal electrophysiology, particularly those with effective coping strategies.

Clinical relevance: The role of objective verification of pathophysiology is debated, but it is an influential factor in recommendations for hand surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Decompression, Surgical
  • Humans
  • Mononeuropathies / physiopathology*
  • Mononeuropathies / surgery*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Radial Neuropathy / surgery
  • Random Allocation