Center Variation in Chest Tube Duration and Length of Stay After Congenital Heart Surgery

Ann Thorac Surg. 2020 Jul;110(1):221-227. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2019.09.078. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Background: Nearly every child undergoing congenital heart surgery has chest tubes placed intraoperatively. Center variation in removal practices and impact on outcomes has not been well described. This study evaluated variation in chest tube management practices and outcomes across centers.

Methods: The study included patients undergoing any of 10 benchmark operations from June 2017 to May 2018 at participating Pediatric Acute Care Cardiology Collaborative (PAC3) and Pediatric Cardiac Critical Care Consortium (PC4) centers. Clinical data from PC4 centers were merged with chest tube data from PAC3 centers. Practices and outcomes were compared across centers in univariate and multivariable analysis.

Results: The cohort included 1029 patients (N = 9 centers). Median chest tube duration varied significantly across centers for 9 of 10 benchmark operations (all P ≤ .03), with a "model" center noted to have the shortest duration for 9 of 10 operations (range, 27.9% to 87.4% shorter duration vs other centers across operations). This effect persisted in multivariable analysis (P < .0001). The model center had higher volumes of chest tube output before removal (median, 8.5 mL/kg/24 h [model] vs 2.2 mL/kg/24 h [other centers]; P < .001], but it did not have higher rates of chest tube reinsertion (model center 1.3% vs 2.1%; P = .59) or readmission for pleural effusion (model center 4.4% vs 3.0%; P = .31), and had the shortest length of stay for 7 of 10 operations.

Conclusions: This study suggests significant center variation in chest tube removal practices and associated outcomes after congenital heart surgery. Best practices used at the model center have informed the design of an ongoing collaborative learning project aimed at reducing chest tube duration and length of stay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chest Tubes*
  • Device Removal*
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Postoperative Care*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Time Factors