Operationalizing a Free Flap Program for Head and Neck Reconstruction at a Veterans Affairs Hospital

OTO Open. 2023 Sep 8;7(3):e80. doi: 10.1002/oto2.80. eCollection 2023 Jul-Sep.


Objectives: We aimed to operationalize a head and neck microvascular free tissue transfer (MVFTT) program at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital with the emphasis on initiating radiotherapy within 6 weeks of surgery for cancer patients and minimizing readmissions.

Study design: Case series.

Setting: Tertiary care VA hospital.

Methods: A retrospective analysis was performed on consecutive head and neck MVFTT patients from May 1, 2017 and April 30, 2022. Demographics, patient and disease characteristics, per-operative data and postoperative outcomes were recorded from the electronic medical record. We sought to compare our rate of 30-day readmissions with those published in the literature.

Results: One hundred and forty-one procedures were performed in the queried timeframe. Eighty-four percent (119) were performed after oncologic resections and 16% (22) were for nononcologic procedures. The rate of total flap loss was <1% and the rate of partial flap loss was 3.5%. For mucosal defects, the fistula rate was 2.3%. The rate of return to the OR for any reason within 30 days was 7.8%. The 30-day readmission rate was 6.4% while the rates reported in the literature range from 13% to 20%. One hundred and four patients required postoperative radiotherapy (PORT) and 76% started PORT within 42 days of surgery.

Conclusion: Operationalizing a head and neck MVFTT program with a VA hospital is safe and allows for the successful delivery of multimodality treatment to cancer patients. These resources can be expanded for the care of head and neck cancer treatment sequelae, such as osteoradionecrosis, and other nononcologic patient needs.

Keywords: 30‐day readmission; Veteran; free flap; head and neck cancer; microvascular reconstruction.