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Percutaneous or surgical tracheostomy: A meta-analysis

Dulguerov, Pavel MD; Gysin, Claudine MD; Perneger, Thomas V. MD, PhD; Chevrolet, Jean-Claude MD

Special Articles

Objective To compare percutaneous with surgical tracheostomy using a meta-analysis of studies published from 1960 to 1996.

Data Sources Publications obtained through a MEDLINE data-base search with a Boolean combination (tracheostomy or tracheotomy) and complications, with constraints for human studies and English language.

Study Selection Publications addressing all peri- and postoperative complications. Studies limited to specific tracheostomy complications or containing insufficient details were excluded. Two authors independently selected the publications.

Data Extraction A list of relevant surgical variables and complications was compiled. Complications were divided into peri- and postoperative groups and further subclassified into severe, intermediate, and minor groups. Because most studies of percutaneous tracheostomy were published after 1985, surgical tracheostomy studies were divided into two periods: 1960 to 1984 and 1985 to 1996. The articles were analyzed independently by three investigators, and rare discrepancies were resolved through discussion and data reexamination.

Data Synthesis Earlier surgical tracheostomy studies (n = 17; patients, 4185) have the highest rates of both peri- (8.5%) and postoperative (33%) complications. Comparison of recent surgical (n = 21; patients, 3512) and percutaneous (n = 27; patients, 1817) tracheostomy trials shows that perioperative complications are more frequent with the percutaneous technique (10% vs. 3%), whereas postoperative complications occur more often with surgical tracheotomy (10% vs. 7%). The bulk of the differences is in minor complications, except perioperative death (0.44% vs. 0.03%) and serious cardiorespiratory events (0.33% vs. 0.06%), which were higher with the percutaneous technique. Heterogeneity analysis of complication rates shows higher heterogeneity in older and surgical trials.

Conclusions Percutaneous tracheostomy is associated with a higher prevalence of perioperative complications and, especially, perioperative deaths and cardiorespiratory arrests. Postoperative complication rates are higher with surgical tracheostomy. (Crit Care Med 1999; 27:1617-1625)

From the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (Drs. Dulguerov and Gysin), the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (Dr. Perneger), and Medical Intensive Care, Department of Internal Medicine (Dr. Chevrolet), University of Geneva Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.

Address requests for reprints to: Pavel Dulguerov, MD, Division of Head and Neck Surgery, University of Geneva Hospital, 24, rue Micheli-du-Crest, Geneva, 1205 Switzerland. E-mail:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.