Rapid recovery pathway for pediatric PSF/AIS patients

An important alternative amidst the opioid crisis


Clinical question

In pediatric postoperative spinal fusion/adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients, do alternatives to traditional opioid-based analgesic pain regimens lead to improved clinical outcomes?


Dr. Mirna Giordano, a pediatric neurosurgery hospitalist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York

Dr. Mirna Giordano

Traditional care for pediatric postoperative spinal fusion (PSF) patients has included late mobilization most often because of significant pain that requires significant opioid administration. This has led to side effects of heavy opioid use, primarily nausea/vomiting and sleepiness.

In the United States, prescribers have become more aware of the pitfalls of opioid use given that more people now die of opioid misuse than breast cancer. An approach of multimodal analgesia with early mobilization has been shown to have decreased length of stay (LOS) and improve patient satisfaction, but data on clinical outcomes have been lacking.

Study design

Single-center quality improvement (QI) project.


Urban, 527-bed, quaternary care, free-standing children’s hospital.


Based on the recognition that multiple “standards” of care were utilized in the postoperative management of PSF patients, a QI project was undertaken. The primary outcome measured was functional recovery, as measured by average LOS and pain scores at the first 6:00 am after surgery then on postoperative days 1, 2, and 3.

Process measures were: use of multimodal agents (gabapentin and ketorolac) and discontinuation of patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) before postoperative day 3. Balancing measures were 30-day readmissions or ED revisit. Patients were divided into three groups by analyzing outcomes in three consecutive time periods: conventional management (n = 134), transition period (n = 104), and rapid recovery pathway (n = 84). In the conventional management time period, patients received intraoperative methadone and postoperative morphine/hydromorphone PCA. During the transition period, plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles with ketorolac and gabapentin pilots were instituted and assessed. Finally, a rapid recovery pathway (RRP) was designed and published as a web-based algorithm. Standardized entry order sets were developed to maintain compliance and consistency among health care professionals, and a transition period was allowed to reach the highest possible percentage of patients adhering to multimodal analgesia regimen.

Adherence to the multimodal regimen led to 90% of patients receiving ketorolac on postoperative day 1, 100% receiving gabapentin on night of surgery, 86% off of IV PCA by postoperative day 3, and 100% order set adherence after full implementation of the RRP. LOS decreased from 5.7 to 4 days after RRP implementation. Pain scores also showed significant improvement on postoperative day 0 (average pain score, 3.8 vs. 4.9) and postoperative day 1 (3.8 vs. 5). Balancing measures of 30-day readmissions or ED visits after discharge was 2.9% and rose to 3.6% after full implementation.

Bottom line

Multimodal analgesia – including preoperative gabapentin and acetaminophen, intraoperative methadone and acetaminophen, and postoperative PCA diazepam, gabapentin, acetaminophen, and ketorolac – results in decreased length of stay and improved self-reported daily pain scores.


Muhly WT et al. Rapid recovery pathway after spinal fusion for idiopathic scoliosis. Pediatrics. 2016 Apr;137(4):e20151568.

Dr. Giordano is a pediatric neurosurgery hospitalist and assistant professor in pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York.

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