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QUALITY: Appendix surgery, too often needless but inevitably so?

I am determined to get back to the conversation on evidence based medicine that I was having with Robert Cantor over at Medical Rants before the holidays. Sadly I’m too gummed up with other work to finish the thoughtful response his last reply to me deserves–although I have subsequently interviewed Michael Millenson, the bete noir of the EBM-deniers (if that’s a term!), who’s last piece The Silence took a pretty hard line with the IOM for not being as aggressive as it should be on the topic.  More to come on that later.

But I remind you that I started this by discussing why evidence-based medicine was so hard to achieve in real world  practice.  This balanced article from the Boston Globe shows that big city hospitals which do lots of procedures on kids do better on reducing the false positive rate for pediatric appendectomies than lower volume hospitals. It seems that it’s pretty hard to get the mistake rate of the big city med centers (still up at around 4.8%) at the local hospital where they don’t see so many and have twice the error rate. The key point in the Pediatrics abstract that’s not in the write up for the lay reader is that two thirds of these pediatric appendectomies are done at the lower volume hospitals, and therefore have the worse results. Yet how many parents want to drive an extra hour or so to a distant hospital when their child is in pain? Does the "centers of excellence" concept make sense for this relatively trivial level of surgery? Is an 8% error level acceptable when the cost is more likely to be financial than medical?  It’s still a tough subject. 

I shall vent later mostly about information use, and this study provides useful information on how we should be tackling this type of procedure.  But it’s a bigger system change to move this type of surgery than to get all the transplants, say,  to high-volume physicians.

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