Variability in clinicians' understanding and reported methods of identifying high-risk surgical patients: a qualitative study

Selwood, Amanda, Blakely, Brette, Senthuran, Siva, Lane, Paul, North, John, and Clay-Williams, Robyn (2020) Variability in clinicians' understanding and reported methods of identifying high-risk surgical patients: a qualitative study. BMC Health Services Research, 20. 427.

PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (711kB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


BACKGROUND: High-risk patients presenting for surgery require complex decision-making and perioperative management. However, given there is no gold standard for identifying high-risk patients, doing so may be challenging for clinicians in practice. Before a gold standard can be established, the state of current practice must be determined. This study aimed to understand how working clinicians define and identify high-risk surgical patients.

METHODS: Clinicians involved in the care of high-risk surgical patients at a public hospital in regional Australia were interviewed as part of an ongoing study evaluating a new shared decision-making process for high-risk patients. The new process, Patient-Centred Advanced Care Planning (PC-ACP) engages patients, families, and clinicians from all relevant specialties in shared decision-making in line with the patient's goals and values. The semi-structured interviews were conducted before the implementation of the new process and were coded using a modified form of the 'constant comparative method' to reveal key themes. Themes concerning patient risk, clinician's understanding of high risk, and methods for identifying high-risk surgical patients were extricated for close examination.

RESULTS: Thirteen staff involved in high-risk surgery at the hospital at which PC-ACP was to be implemented were interviewed. Analysis revealed six sub-themes within the major theme of factors related to patient risk: (1) increase in high-risk patients, (2) recognising frailty, (3) risk-benefit balance, (4) suitability and readiness for surgery, (5) avoiding negative outcomes, and (6) methods in use for identifying high-risk patients. There was considerable variability in clinicians' methods of identifying high-risk patients and regarding their definition of high risk. This variability occurred even among clinicians within the same disciplines and specialties.

CONCLUSIONS: Although clinicians were confident in their own ability to identify high-risk patients, they acknowledged limitations in recognising frail, high-risk patients and predicting and articulating possible outcomes when consenting these patients. Importantly, little consistency in clinicians' reported methods for identifying high-risk patients was found. Consensus regarding the definition of high-risk surgical patients is necessary to ensure rigorous decision-making.

Item ID: 67197
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1472-6963
Keywords: Frailty, High-risk patients, Patient risk, Qualitative research, Shared decision-making, Surgery
Copyright Information: © The Author(s). 2020. Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you giveappropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate ifchanges were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commonslicence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commonslicence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtainpermission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to thedata made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Funders: Townsville Hospital and Health Service Research Trust Fund (TH)
Projects and Grants: TH grant number RG/2015/21
Date Deposited: 05 May 2021 02:34
FoR Codes: 32 BIOMEDICAL AND CLINICAL SCIENCES > 3202 Clinical sciences > 320226 Surgery @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 23
Last 12 Months: 20
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page