Background: Rates of carpal tunnel surgery vary for unclear reasons. In this study, the authors developed measures determining when surgery is necessary (benefits exceed risks), inappropriate (risks outweigh benefits), or optional.
Methods: Measures were developed using a modified-Delphi panel. Clinical scenarios were defined incorporating symptom severity, symptom duration, clinical probability of carpal tunnel syndrome, electrodiagnostic testing, and nonoperative treatment response. A multidisciplinary panel of 11 carpal tunnel syndrome experts rated appropriateness of surgery for each scenario on a scale ranging from 1 to 9 scale (7 to 9, surgery is necessary; 1 to 3, surgery is inappropriate).
Results: Of 90 scenarios (36 for mild, 36 for moderate, and 18 for severe symptoms), panelists judged carpal tunnel surgery as necessary for 16, inappropriate for 37, and optional for 37 scenarios. For mild symptoms, surgery is generally necessary when clinical probability of carpal tunnel syndrome is high, there is a positive electrodiagnostic test, and there has been unsuccessful nonoperative treatment. For moderate symptoms, surgery is generally necessary with a positive electrodiagnostic test involving two or more of the following: high clinical probability, unsuccessful nonoperative treatment, and symptoms lasting longer than 12 months. Surgery is generally inappropriate for mild to moderate symptoms involving two or more of the following: low clinical probability, no electrodiagnostic confirmation, and nonoperative treatment not attempted. For severe symptoms, surgery is generally necessary with a positive electrodiagnostic test or unsuccessful nonoperative treatment.
Conclusions: These are the first formal measures assessing appropriateness of carpal tunnel surgery. Applying these measures can identify underuse (failure to provide necessary care) and overuse (providing inappropriate care), giving insight into variations in receipt of this procedure.