Protocolized care pathways in emergency general surgery: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Deena Harji*, Ben Griffiths, Deborah Stocken, R Pearse, Jane Blazeby, Julia Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Emergency abdominal surgery is associated with significant postoperative morbidity and mortality. The delivery of standardized pathways in this setting may have the potential to transform clinical care and improve patient outcomes.

The OVID SP versions of MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched between January 1950 and October 2022. All randomized and non-randomized cohort studies comparing protocolized care streams with standard care protocols in adult patients (>18 years old) undergoing major emergency abdominal surgery with 30-day follow-up data were included. Studies were excluded if they reported on standardized care protocols in the trauma or elective setting. Outcomes assessed included length of stay, 30-day postoperative morbidity, 30-day postoperative mortality and 30-day readmission and reoperations rates. Risk of bias was assessed using ROBINS-I for non-randomized studies and RoB-2 for randomized controlled trials. Meta-analysis was performed using random effects modelling.

Seventeen studies including 20 927 patients were identified, with 12 359 patients undergoing protocolized care pathways and 8568 patients undergoing standard care pathways. Thirteen unique protocolized pathways were identified, with a median of eight components (range 6–15), with compliance of 24–100%. Protocolized care pathways were associated with a shorter hospital stay compared to standard care pathways (mean difference −2.47, 95% c.i. −4.01 to −0.93, P = 0.002). Protocolized care pathways had no impact on postoperative mortality (OR 0.87, 95% c.i. 0.41 to 1.87, P = 0.72). A reduction in specific postoperative complications was observed, including postoperative pneumonia (OR 0.42 95% c.i. 0.24 to 0.73, P = 0.002) and surgical site infection (OR 0.34, 95% c.i. 0.21 to 0.55, P < 0.001).

Protocolized care pathways in the emergency setting currently lack standardization, with variable components and low compliance; however, despite this they are associated with short-term clinical benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberznae057
JournalBritish Journal of Surgery
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

This work was funded through a National Institute of Health and Care Research Advanced Fellowship.


Dive into the research topics of 'Protocolized care pathways in emergency general surgery: A systematic review and meta-analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this