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Index Cholecystectomy Cuts Readmissions After Acute Cholangitis

Patients with acute cholangitis are twice as likely to be readmitted within 30 days if they don’t get a cholecystectomy in the same hospital admission for which they get biliary decompression, researchers say.

The readmissions result mostly from sepsis and recurrence of the acute cholangitis, said Ahmad Khan, MD, MS, a gastroenterology fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, at Digestive Diseases Week® (DDW) 2022. “These added readmissions can cause a significant burden in terms of costs and extra days of hospitalization in these patients.”

Acute cholangitis in patients without bile duct stents is most often caused by biliary calculi, benign biliary stricture, or malignancy. A gastrointestinal emergency, it requires treatment with biliary decompression followed by cholecystectomy, but the cholecystectomy is considered an elective procedure.

Surgeons may delay it if the patient is very sick, or simply for scheduling reasons, Khan said. “There are some areas where the surgeons may be too busy,” he said. Or if the patient first presents at the end of the week, some surgeons will send the patient home so they don’t have to operate on the weekend, he said.

To understand the consequences of these decisions, Khan and his colleagues analyzed data from 2016 to 2018 from the National Readmission Database of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

They found that 11% of patients who went home before returning for a cholecystectomy had to be readmitted versus only 5.5% of those who got a cholecystectomy during the same (index) admission as their biliary decompression.

Patients who got cholecystectomies during their index admissions were slightly younger and healthier: Their mean age was 67.29 years and 20.59% had three or more comorbidities at index admission versus 70.77 years of age and 39.80% with three or more comorbidities at index admission for those who got their cholecystectomies later.

The researchers did not find any significant differences in the hospitals’ characteristics, such as being urban or academic, between the two groups.

Mortality was higher for those who received their cholecystectomy after returning home, but they spent less time in the hospital at lower total cost. The differences in outcomes between the index admission and readmission were all statistically significant (P < .01).

This observational study could not determine cause and effect, but it justifies a prospective trial that could more definitely determine which approach results in better outcomes, Khan said.

That patients are less likely to need readmission if they return home without a gall bladder after treatment for acute cholangitis “makes sense,” said session comoderator Richard Sterling, MD, MSc, chief of hepatology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“Should you do it immediately or can you wait a day or 2? They didn’t really address when during that admission, so we still don’t know the optimal sequence of events.”

If a patient has so many comorbidities that the surgeon and anesthesiologist don’t think the patient could survive a cholecystectomy, then the surgeon might do a cholecystostomy instead, he said.

Khan said he hopes to delve deeper into the data to determine what factors might have influenced the surgeons’ decisions to delay the cholecystectomy. “I want to see, of the patients who did not get same-admission cholecystectomies, how many had diabetes, how many had coronary artery disease, how many were on blood thinners, and things like that.”

Neither Khan nor Sterling reported any relevant financial interests.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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