Introduction: Although advances in surgical technique and medical management have drastically improved outcomes of free flap reconstructive surgery in head and neck patients, there is no clear consensus on appropriate level of postoperative care. Methods: The literature was searched systematically for all comparative studies of intensive care unit (ICU) and non-ICU admissions for head and neck patients. The primary outcomes were flap failure rate, flap complications, and hospital length of stay (LOS). Secondary outcomes included cost implications, medical complications, and rates of revision surgery, readmission, and mortality. Results: Nine articles (2510 patients) were included. Patients admitted to non-ICU wards were not significantly at increased risk for free flap failure, flap-related complications, or longer LOS. Total medical complications were found to have a pooled relative risk (RR) of 0.57 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.40 to 0.83], favoring the non-ICU cohort. In particular, the non-ICU cohort was less likely to develop neuropsychiatric complications (RR 0.34 [95% CI 0.24 to 0.48]) and sepsis (RR 0.18 [95% CI 0.05 to 0.68]) with no difference in cardiovascular or pulmonary complications. Discussion: Patients admitted to non-ICU wards did not experience higher rates of adverse flap-related outcomes and had decreased risk of developing medical complications in the studies included in this meta-analysis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas