Objective: A bespoke clinical pathway is increasingly often used to expedite patient's recovery after video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). The importance and predictors of adherence to a clinical pathway have not been previously investigated.
Methods: A defined clinical pathway was used for the perioperative management of 136 consecutive patients receiving major pulmonary resection surgery. The clinical pathway encompassed multiple aspects of clinical care, including chest drainage, analgesia, mobilization, physiotherapy, investigations, etc.
Results: The cohort consisted of 76 males (56%), and had a median age of 61 years (range, 14-84). A single lobectomy was performed in 66 patients (49%), with sublobar or more complex resections performed in the remainder. Although all patients were intended for a VATS approach, VATS was ultimately used to complete the procedure in 113 patients (83%). It was impossible to adhere strictly to the clinical pathway throughout the hospital stay of most patients, with 83 patients (61%) found to have adhered to the clinical pathway for 50% or more or the duration of their in-hospital stay. The rate of adherence to the clinical pathway for 50% or more of the time was lower in patients who were male (31.6% vs 48.3%, P = 0.047); had a smoking history (25.9% vs 47.6%, P = 0.011); and did not have absence of pain immediately after surgery (33.9% vs 59.3%, P = 0.016). There were trends for poorer adherence among patients who had: age older than 65 years; previous tuberculosis; body mass index greater than 25 kg/m; and longer operation times-but these failed to reach statistical significance. The approach and extent of surgery did not influence clinical pathway adherence. Adherence for 50% or more of the hospital stay was associated with reduced mean chest drain duration (3.2 ± 1.7 vs 5.1 ± 5.0 days, P = 0.002) and mean length of stay (4.6 ± 1.9 vs 7.9 ± 6.6 days, P < 0.001). Among smokers, adherence for 75% or more of the hospital stay was particularly well predicted by better pain control on the day of surgery, and was in turn associated with a significant reduction in morbidity rate (7.7% vs 39.0%, P = 0.043).
Conclusions: Good adherence to a detailed clinical pathway may ensure faster recovery after VATS but is often difficult to maintain postoperatively. Predictors of poor adherence include male sex, smoking history, and immediate postoperative pain. Smokers are at particular risk for failure to adhere but paradoxically have the most to gain from adhering to the clinical pathway.