Almost half of patients who underwent endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) did not undergo cholecystectomy (CCY) within the next 60 days according to the results of a large, retrospective cohort study reported in the September issue of Gastroenterology (doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.048).

“Although early and delayed CCY equally reduce the risk of subsequent recurrent biliary events, patients are at 10-fold higher risk of a recurrent biliary event while waiting for a delayed CCY, compared with patients who underwent early CCY,” wrote Robert J. Huang, MD, and his associates of Stanford (Calif.) University Medical Center. Delayed CCY is cost effective, but that benefit must be weighed against the risk of loss to follow-up, especially if patients have “little or no health insurance,” they said.

Source: American Gastroenterological Association

Gallstone disease affects up to 15% of adults in developed societies, including about 20-25 million Americans. Yearly costs of treatment tally at more than $6.2 billion and have risen by more than 20% in 3 decades, according to multiple studies. Approximately 20% of patients with gallstone disease have choledocholithiasis, mainly because gallstones can pass from the gallbladder into the common bile duct. After undergoing ERCP, such patients are typically referred for CCY, but there are no “societal guidelines” on timing the referral, the researchers said. Practice patterns remain “largely institution based and may be subject to the vagaries of surgeon availability and other institutional resource constraints.” One prior study linked a median 7-week wait time for CCY with a 20% rate of recurrent biliary events. To evaluate large-scale practice patterns, the researchers studied 4,516 patients who had undergone ERCP for choledocholithiasis in California (during 2009-2011), New York (during 2011-2013), and Florida (during 2012-2014) and calculated timing and rates of subsequent CCY, recurrent biliary events, and deaths. Patients were followed for up to 365 days after ERCP.

Of the 4,516 patients studied, 1,859 (41.2%) patients underwent CCY during their index hospital admission (early CCY). Of the 2,657 (58.8%) patients who were discharged without CCY, only 491 (18%) had a planned CCY within 60 days (delayed CCY), 350 (71.3%) of which were done in an outpatient setting. Of the patients in the study, 2,168 (48.0%) did not have a CCY (no CCY) during their index visit or within 60 days. Over 365 days of follow-up, 10% of patients who did not have a CCY had recurrent biliary events, compared with 1.3% of patients who underwent early or delayed CCY. The risk of recurrent biliary events for patients who underwent early or delayed CCY was about 88% lower than if they had had no CCY within 60 days of ERCP (P less than .001 for each comparison). Performing CCY during index admission cut the risk of recurrent biliary events occurring within 60 days by 92%, compared with delayed or no CCY (P less than .001).

In all, 15 (0.7%) patients who did not undergo CCY died after subsequent hospitalization for a recurrent biliary event, compared with 1 patient who underwent early CCY (0.1%; P less than .001). There were no deaths associated with recurrent biliary events in the delayed-CCY group. Rates of all-cause mortality over 365 days were 3.1% in the no-CCY group, 0.6% in the early-CCY group, and 0% in the delayed-CCY group. Thus, cumulative death rates were about seven times higher among patients who did not undergo CCY compared with those who did (P less than .001).

Patients who did not undergo CCY tended to be older than delayed- and early-CCY patients (mean ages 66 years, 58 years, and 52 years, respectively). No-CCY patients also tended to have more comorbidities. Nonetheless, having an early CCY retained a “robust” protective effect against recurrent biliary events after accounting for age, sex, comorbidities, stent placement, facility volume, and state of residence. Even after researchers adjusted for those factors, the protective effect of early CCY dropped by less than 5% (from 92% to about 87%), the investigators said.

They also noted that the overall cohort averaged 60 years of age and that 64% were female, which is consistent with the epidemiology of biliary stone disease. Just over half were non-Hispanic whites. Medicare was the single largest primary payer (46%), followed by private insurance (28%) and Medicaid (16%).

“A strategy of delayed CCY performed on an outpatient basis was least costly,” the researchers said. “Performance of early CCY was inversely associated with low facility volume. Hispanic race, Asian race, Medicaid insurance, and no insurance associated inversely with performance of delayed CCY.”

Funders included a seed grant from the Stanford division of gastroenterology and hepatology and the National Institutes of Health. The investigators had no conflicts of interest.