Background: To address overuse of unnecessary practices, several surgical organizations have participated in the Choosing Wisely® campaign and identified four breast cancer surgical procedures as unnecessary. Despite evidence demonstrating no survival benefit for all four, evidence suggests only two have been substantially de-implemented. Our objective was to understand why surgeons stop performing certain unnecessary cancer operations but not others and how best to de-implement entrenched and emerging unnecessary procedures.
Methods: We sampled surgeons who treat breast cancer in a variety of practice types and geographic regions in the United States. Using a semi-structured guide, we conducted telephone interviews (n = 18) to elicit attitudes and understand practices relating to the four identified breast cancer procedures in the Choosing Wisely® campaign. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and anonymized. Transcripts were analyzed using inductive and deductive thematic analysis.
Results: For the two procedures successfully de-implemented, surgeons described a high level of confidence in the data supporting the recommendations. In contrast, surgeons frequently described a lack of familiarity or skepticism toward the recommendation to avoid sentinel-node biopsy in women ≥ 70 years of age and the influence of other collaborating oncology providers as justification for continued use. Regarding contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, surgeons consistently agreed with the recommendation that this was unnecessary, yet reported continued utilization due to the value placed on patient autonomy and preference.
Conclusions: With a growing focus on the elimination of ineffective, unproven or low value practices, it is imperative that the behavioral determinants are understood and targeted with specific interventions to decrease utilization rapidly.