Major musculoskeletal surgery in children with medically complex conditions

A review of the International Committee’s guide


The International Committee on Perioperative Care for Children with Medical Complexity developed an online guide, “Deciding on and Preparing for Major Musculoskeletal Surgery in Children with Cerebral Palsy, Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and Other Medically Complex Conditions,” published on Dec. 20, 2020, detailing how to prepare pediatric patients with medical complexity prior to musculoskeletal surgery. The guide was developed from a dearth of information regarding optimal care practices for these patients.

Dr. Tantoco is an academic med-peds hospitalist practicing at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is an instructor of medicine (hospital medicine) and pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg S

Dr. Ann-Marie Tantoco

The multidisciplinary committee included members from orthopedic surgery, general pediatrics, pediatric hospital medicine, anesthesiology, critical care medicine, pain medicine, physiotherapy, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, and families of children with cerebral palsy. Mirna Giordano, MD, FAAP, FHM, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, New York, and International Committee member, helped develop these recommendations to “improve quality of care in the perioperative period for children with medical complexities and neurodisabilities all over the world.”

The guide meticulously details the steps required to successfully prepare for an operation and postoperative recovery. It includes an algorithm and comprehensive assessment plan that can be implemented to assess and optimize the child’s health and wellbeing prior to surgery. It encourages shared decision making and highlights the need for ongoing, open communication between providers, patients, and families to set goals and expectations, discuss potential complications, and describe outcomes and the recovery process.

The module elaborates on several key factors that must be evaluated and addressed long before surgery to ensure success. Baseline nutrition is critical and must be evaluated with body composition and anthropometric measurements. Respiratory health must be assessed with consideration of pulmonology consultation, specific testing, and ventilator or assistive-device optimization. Moreover, children with innate muscular weakness or restrictive lung disease should have baseline physiology evaluated in anticipation of potential postoperative complications, including atelectasis, hypoventilation, and pneumonia. Coexisting chronic medical conditions must also be optimized in anticipation of expected deviations from baseline.

In anticipation of peri- and postoperative care, the medical team should also be aware of details surrounding patients’ indwelling medical devices, such as cardiac implantable devices and tracheostomies. Particular attention should be paid to baclofen pumps, as malfunction or mistitration can lead to periprocedural hypotension or withdrawal.

Of paramount importance is understanding how the child appears and responds when in pain or discomfort, especially for a child with limited verbal communication. The module provides pain assessment tools, tailored to verbal and nonverbal patients in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. The module also shares guidance on establishing communication and goals with the family and within the care team on how the child appears when in distress and how he/she/they respond to pain medications. The pain plan should encompass both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapeutics. Furthermore, as pain and discomfort may present from multiple sources, not limited to the regions involved in the procedure, understanding how the child responds to urinary retention, constipation, dyspnea, and uncomfortable positions is important to care. Postoperative immobilization must also be addressed as it may lead to pressure injury, manifesting as behavioral changes.

The module also presents laboratory testing as part of the preoperative health assessment. It details the utility or lack thereof of several common practices and provides recommendations on components that should be part of each patient’s assessment. It also contains videos showcased from the Courage Parents Network on family and provider perceptions of spinal fusion.

Dr. Ajay Bhasin, Division of Hospital Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago

Dr. Ajay Bhasin

Family and social assessments must not be neglected prior to surgery, as these areas may also affect surgical outcomes. The module shares several screening tools that care team members can use to screen for family and social issues. Challenges to discharge planning are also discussed, including how to approach transportation, medical equipment, and school transitions needs.

The module is available for review in OPEN Pediatrics (, an online community for pediatric health professionals who share peer-reviewed best practices. “Our aim is to disseminate the recommendations as widely as possible to bring about the maximum good to the most,” Dr. Giordano said. The International Committee on Perioperative Care for Children with Medical Complexity is planning further guides regarding perioperative care, particularly for intraoperative and postoperative considerations.

Dr. Tantoco is a med-peds hospitalist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and instructor of medicine (hospital medicine) and pediatrics in Northwestern University, in Chicago. She is also a member of the SHM Pediatrics Special Interest Group Executive Committee. Dr. Bhasin is a med-peds hospitalist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, and assistant professor of medicine (hospital medicine) and pediatrics in Northwestern University.

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