Monday, March 18, 2013

Less is more in preoperative testing

- Kenny Lin, MD

Family physicians are often asked for preoperative consultations prior to elective surgical procedures. Traditionally, the process of "clearing" patients for surgery has included performing an electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, and numerous laboratory tests. However, as Dr. Molly Feely and colleagues point out in the cover article of AFP's March 15th issue, there is little evidence that routine preoperative testing is beneficial: "these tests often do not change perioperative management, may lead to follow-up testing with results that are often normal, and can unnecessarily delay surgery, all of which increase the cost of care." Instead, current guidelines recommend selective testing based on risk factors identified during the history or physical examination.

The following Choosing Wisely campaign recommendations from several medical specialty groups identify unwarranted preoperative tests to reduce waste and prevent harm to patients:

1. Avoid routine preoperative testing for low-risk surgeries without a clinical indication.
2. Avoid admission or preoperative chest x-rays for ambulatory patients with unremarkable history and physical exam.
3. Patients who have no cardiac history and good functional status do not require preoperative stress testing prior to noncardiac thoracic surgery.
4. Avoid cardiovascular stress testing for patients undergoing low-risk surgery.
5. Avoid echocardiograms for preoperative/perioperative assessment of patients with no history or symptoms of heart disease.
6. Don’t order coronary artery calcium scoring for preoperative evaluation for any surgery, irrespective of patient risk.
7. Don’t initiate routine evaluation of carotid artery disease prior to cardiac surgery in the absence of symptoms or other high-risk criteria.
8. Prior to cardiac surgery there is no need for pulmonary function testing in the absence of respiratory symptoms.