Birth defects affect 3% of all babies born in the United States each year. Unlike reconstruction for many acquired deformities, one hallmark of reconstruction for complex congenital conditions is the requirement of multiple surgeries, procedures, and therapies from birth to maturity. These interventions often result in significant medical burden on children during development with potential long-term psychosocial consequences. The aim of this study was therefore to better define the psychosocial impact of repetitive operations on the pediatric patient.
A scoping review was performed under the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Review guidelines. We searched the PubMed, Cochrane Library, Science Direct, and Web of Science databases using key words “number of surgeries,” “psychosocial,” “pediatric,” and related terms. Primary articles published in English describing psychosocial outcomes in pediatric patients who underwent more than one procedure or surgery were included (n = 25). The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to assess the quality of each study.
We included 25 articles published between 1995 and 2019, which included 6520 patients. The most common diagnosis across all studies was congenital heart disease (CHD) (n = 4169, 63.9%), followed by cleft lip and palate (n = 1196, 18.3%). The average number of operations and procedures was 3.4 (range = 1–18) and 32.1 (range = 6–89), respectively. The association between repetitive surgeries and poorer psychosocial outcomes was demonstrated in children with early-onset scoliosis, CHD, hydrocephalus, bladder exstrophy, posterior urethral rupture, anorectal anomalies, and conditions requiring numerous nonsurgical procedures. There were also a few CHD, cleft lip and/or palate, and hydrocephalus studies that did not find a significant correlation.
The studies here suggest that certain pediatric patient populations are at risk for impaired psychosocial functioning as a result of repetitive procedures. However, it is important to differentiate whether the association with poorer psychosocial outcomes is from the number of surgical procedures or whether the number if just a surrogate for increased disease complexity. Standardized psychosocial outcomes measures and future prospective, long-term, randomized clinical trials are also warranted.