Skip to main content

No such thing as a low-risk surgery for frail patients

Posted by on Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Around the Medical Center, Spring 2020 .

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Even a minor surgery such as a laparoscopic gallbladder removal can prove to be a high-risk and even fatal procedure for frail patients, according to new research published in JAMA Surgery.

A team of researchers from leading U.S. academic medical centers and VA medical centers examined the records of 432,828 patients who underwent a non-cardiac surgical procedure. They found that patients who were classified as frail or very frail had substantially higher mortality rates after surgeries with low and moderate operative stress, with up to 43% dying after moderate stress procedures such as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (minimally invasive gallbladder removal).

“It’s been established that frailty is a strong predictor of complications and death related to surgery, but what we learned in this study is that frail patients have alarmingly high rates of postoperative death, no matter how minor the surgical procedure,” said lead author Myrick “Ricky” Shinall Jr., MD, PhD, an assistant professor and general surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is one of the most common operations I do as a general surgeon, and this has really given me pause to think that for frail to very frail patients — about 10% of our sample — this is a big deal. Our data indicate that there are no ‘low-risk’ procedures among frail patients.”