Defining the "Critical Elements" for the Most Common Procedures in Spine Surgery: A Consensus of Orthopedic and Neurosurgical Surgeons

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2018 May 1;43(9):E531-E536. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000002416.


Study design: Survey.

Objective: To define the critical elements of common spine surgeries.

Summary of background data: Despite significant relevance to the field of spine surgery, the term "critical element" of surgery has not been clearly defined. Every surgical procedure involves numerous steps, each with its own potential for complications and harm to the patient. Despite its crucial role in surgical training, billing, and the ethicality of concurrent surgery, the term "critical element" of surgery has not been defined.

Methods: A survey was administered to surgeons associated with AO Spine North America and the Society for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery to determine the critical elements for four common spine procedures: open lumbar laminectomy and fusion, microdiscectomy, anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), and posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion. Respondents were asked which steps necessitated their direct supervision. Surgical subspecialty, level of experience, and practice demographics were also recorded.

Results: For all applicable procedures, decompression, instrumentation, and fusion were designated as critical elements. Patient positioning and fascial closure were not. Radiographic localization was considered critical for all procedures, except posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion. Exposure was not considered critical for any procedures, except ACDF. Certain substeps of decompression in ACDF and open lumbar laminectomy and fusion were not considered critical. Orthopaedic surgeons considered exposure and fusion in ACDF procedures to be critical whereas neurosurgeons did not. Surgeons operating in private practice considered every step of these common procedures to be critical elements.

Conclusion: Decompression, instrumentation, and fusion were considered critical elements of common spine surgeries. There were significant differences in responses according to surgical specialty and practice setting. Future research is necessary to determine the implications of these findings and guide the definition of the "critical portions" of surgery.

Level of evidence: 1.

MeSH terms

  • Consensus*
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgeons / standards*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / standards*
  • Orthopedic Surgeons / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*