Procedural Surgical RCTs in Daily Practice: Do Surgeons Adopt Or Is It Just a Waste of Time?

Ann Surg. 2019 Nov;270(5):727-734. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000003546.


Objective: To assess the adoption of recommendation from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and investigate factors favoring or preventing adoption.

Background: RCT are considered to be the cornerstone of evidence-based medicine by representing the highest level of evidence. As such, we expect RCT's recommendations to be followed rigorously in daily surgical practice.

Methods: We performed a structured search for RCTs published in the medical and surgical literature from 2009 to 2013, allowing a minimum of 5-year follow-up to convincingly test implementation. We focused on comparative technical or procedural RCTs trials addressing the domains of general, colorectal, hepatobiliary, upper gastrointestinal and vascular surgery. In a second step we composed a survey of 29 questions among ESA members as well as collaborators from their institutions to investigate the adoption of surgical RCTs recommendation.

Results: The survey based on 36 RCTs (median 5-yr citation index 85 (24-474), from 21 different countries, published in 15 high-ranked journals with a median impact factor of 3.3 (1.23-7.9) at the time of publication. Overall, less than half of the respondents (47%) appeared to adhere to the recommendations of a specific RCT within their field of expertise, even when included in formal guidelines. Adoption of a new surgical practice was favored by watching videos (46%) as well as assisting live operations (18%), while skepticism regarding the methodology of a surgical RCT (40%) appears to be the major reason to resist adoption.

Conclusion: In conclusion, surgical RCTs appear to have moderate impact on daily surgical practice. While RCTs are still accepted to provide the highest level of evidence, alternative methods of evaluating surgical innovations should also be explored.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / standards
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / trends*
  • United States