Importance: The timing of tracheostomy placement in adult patients undergoing critical care remains unestablished. Previous meta-analyses have reported mixed findings regarding early vs late tracheostomy placement for ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), ventilator days, mortality, and length of intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalization. Objective: To compare the association of early (=7 days) vs late tracheotomy with VAP and ventilator days in critically ill adults. Data Sources: A search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, references of relevant articles, previous meta-analyses, and gray literature from inception to March 31, 2020, was performed. Study Selection: Randomized clinical trials comparing early and late tracheotomy with any of our primary outcomes, VAP or ventilator days, were included. Data Extraction and Synthesis: Two independent reviewers conducted all stages of the review. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses guideline was followed. Pooled odds ratios (ORs) or the mean difference (MD) with 95% CIs were calculated using a random-effects model. Main Outcomes and Measures: Primary outcomes included VAP and duration of mechanical ventilation. Intensive care unit days and mortality (within the first 30 days of hospitalization) constituted secondary outcomes. Results: Seventeen unique trials with a cumulative 3145 patients (mean [SD] age range, 32.9 [12.7] to 67.9 [17.6] years) were included in this review. Individuals undergoing early tracheotomy had a decrease in the occurrence of VAP (OR, 0.59 [95% CI, 0.35-0.99]; 1894 patients) and experienced more ventilator-free days (MD, 1.74 [95% CI, 0.48-3.00] days; 1243 patients). Early tracheotomy also resulted in fewer ICU days (MD, -6.25 [95% CI, -11.22 to -1.28] days; 2042 patients). Mortality was reported for 2445 patients and was comparable between groups (OR, 0.66 [95% CI, 0.38-1.15]). Conclusions and Relevance: Compared with late tracheotomy, early intervention was associated with lower VAP rates and shorter durations of mechanical ventilation and ICU stay, but not with reduced short-term, all-cause mortality. These findings have substantial clinical implications and may result in practice changes regarding the timing of tracheotomy in severely ill adults requiring mechanical ventilation.
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