A systematic multidisciplinary initiative for reducing the risk of complications in adult scoliosis surgery

Rajiv Sethi, Quinlan D. Buchlak, Vijay Yanamadala, Melissa L. Anderson, Eric A. Baldwin, Robert S. Mecklenburg, Jean Christophe Leveque, Alicia M. Edwards, Mary Shea, Lisa Ross, Karen J. Wernli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Systematic multidisciplinary approaches to improving quality and safety in complex surgical care have shown promise. Complication rates from complex spine surgery range from 10% to 90% for all surgeries, and the overall mortality rate is 1%-4%. These rates suggest the need for improved perioperative complex spine surgery processes designed to minimize risk and improve quality. METHODS: The Group Health Research Institute and Virginia Mason Medical Center implemented a systematic multidisciplinary protocol, the Seattle Spine Team Protocol, in 2010. This protocol involves the following elements: 1) a comprehensive multidisciplinary conference including clinicians from neurosurgery, anesthesia, orthopedics, internal medicine, behavioral health, and nursing, collaboratively deciding on each patient's suitability for surgery; 2) a mandatory patient education course that reviews the risks of surgery, preparation for the surgery, and postoperative care; 3) a dual-attending-surgeon approach involving 1 neurosurgeon and 1 orthopedic spine surgeon; 4) a dedicated specialist complex spine anesthesia team; and 5) rigorous intraoperative monitoring of a patient's blood loss and coagulopathy. The authors identified 71 patients who underwent complex spine surgery involving fusion of 6 or more levels before implementation of the protocol (surgery between 2008 and 2010) and 69 patients who underwent complex spine surgery after the implementation of the protocol (2010 and 2012). All patient demographic variables, including age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, diagnosis of diabetes and/or osteoporosis, previous surgery, and the nature of the spinal deformity, were comprehensively assessed. Also comprehensively assessed were surgical variables, including operative time, number of levels fused, and length of stay. The authors assessed overall complication rates at 30 days and 1 year and detailed deaths, cardiovascular events, infections, instrumentation failures, and CSF leaks. Chi-square and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests were used to assess differences in patient characteristics for patients with a procedure in the preimple-mentation period from those in the postimplementation period under a Poisson distribution model. RESULTS: Patients who underwent surgery after implementation of the Seattle Spine Team Protocol had a statistically significant reduction (relative risk 0.49 [95% CI 0.30-0.78]) in all measured complications, including cardiovascular events, wound infections, other perioperative infections, and implant failures within 30 days after surgery; the analysis was adjusted for age and Charlson comorbidity score. A trend toward fewer deaths in this group was also found. CONCLUSIONS: This type of systematic quality improvement strategy can improve quality and patient safety and might be applicable to other complex surgical disciplines. Implementation of these strategies in the treatment of adult spinal deformity will likely lead to better patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)744-750
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Health services
  • Risk reduction
  • Spinal surgery
  • Surgical complications
  • Systematic improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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