BACKGROUND: Conversion from laparoscopy to laparotomy can be expected in a variable percentage of surgeries. Patients who experience conversion to a laparotomy may have a worse outcome than those who have a successfully completed laparoscopic procedure. This study aimed to compare the outcomes of converted cases based on whether the case was a reactive conversion (RC, due to an intraoperative complication such as bleeding or bowel injury) or a preemptive conversion (PC, due to a lack of progression or unclear anatomy). METHODS: All laparoscopic colorectal procedures converted to a laparotomy were retrospectively reviewed from data prospectively entered into an institutional review board-approved database. Patients who underwent an RC were matched with patients who underwent a PC according to age, gender, body mass index (BMI), and diagnosis. Patients who underwent a laparoscopic colorectal resection (LCR) were taken as the control group. The incidence and nature of postoperative complications, the time to liquid or regular diet, and the length of hospital stay were recorded. RESULTS: Of 962 laparoscopic procedures performed between 2000 and 2007, 222 (23.1%) converted to a laparotomy were identified. The 30 patients who had undergone an RC were matched with 60 patients who had undergone a PC and 60 patients who had undergone an LCR. The reasons for RC were bleeding in 14 cases, bowel injury in 6 cases, ureteric damage in 3 cases, splenic injury in 3 cases, and other complications in 4 cases. The patients who had undergone RC were more likely to have experienced a postoperative complication (50% vs 27%; p = 0.028), required longer time to toleration of a regular diet (6 vs 5 days; p = 0.03), and stayed longer in the hospital (8.1 vs 7.1 days; p = 0.080). CONCLUSION: Preemptive conversion is associated with a better outcome than reactive conversion. Based on this finding, it appears preferable for the surgeon to have a low threshold for performing PC rather than awaiting the need for an RC.
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