Use of a non-ICU specialty ward for immediate post-operative management of head and neck free flaps; a randomized controlled trial

B. Cervenka, L. Olinde, E. Gould, D. G. Farwell, M. Moore, M. Kaufman, A. F. Bewley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives: Compare length of stay, flap failure rate, medical and surgical complications and cost when patients undergoing head and neck free flap reconstruction are monitored in an intensive care unit (ICU) versus a specialty ward unit postoperatively. Materials and methods: A prospective, non-inferiority, randomized controlled trial was conducted from 7/22/2016 to 9/12/2018 at a single institution. Patients were randomized to the ICU or specialty ward unit. Flap check protocols were identical between the groups. Perioperative and postoperative outcome variables were assessed and compared. Results: 131 patients were enrolled in the study and 118 ultimately underwent head and neck free flap reconstruction. 57 were randomized to the ICU and 61 to the specialty ward unit. There were no significant differences between the ICU and specialty ward unit groups with regard to demographic variables including age, gender, co-morbidities, tobacco or alcohol use, prior chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment. There were no significant differences in perioperative variables including need for transfusion, tracheostomy, ischemia time, blood loss, fluid administration or post-operative antibiotic use. There was no significant difference in the primary outcome variable, length of stay. There were no significant differences in the number of the medical or surgical complications, flap failure rate, or hospital costs. Conclusion: In this prospective, randomized controlled trial, head and neck free-flap patients cared for on a specialty ward in the immediate post-operative period had equivalent outcomes to those cared for in the ICU.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104464
JournalOral Oncology
StatePublished - Dec 2019



  • Free flap
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Microvascular reconstruction
  • Outcomes
  • Post-operative care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oral Surgery
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

Cite this