Protocol for a systematic review of venous coupler devices versus hand-sewn anastomosis for microsurgical free flap reconstruction.
Rodi T., Geierlehner A., Mosahebi A., Tanos G., Wormald JCR.
BACKGROUND: A patent microvascular anastomosis is of paramount importance in free tissue transfer. Anastomotic coupler devices provide an alternative to technically demanding hand-sewn venous anastomosis. Various advantages of these devices have been discussed but previous systematic reviews had methodological flaws or did not perform a meta-analysis. This review aims to evaluate the quality of the evidence and quantify the efficacy and safety of venous couplers compared to hand-sewn anastomosis. METHODS: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis will be performed. A comprehensive search strategy has been developed and will be applied to the databases MEDLINE and Embase from inception to October 2018. All clinical studies using anastomotic coupler devices for venous anastomoses in free tissue transfer will be eligible for inclusion. Screening of studies and data extraction will be performed independently by two authors. Our primary outcome is anastomotic venous thrombosis. Secondary outcomes will include time to complete the venous anastomosis, tearing of veins, anastomotic leakage, flap loss/failure and fiscal outcomes. The risk of bias for included studies will be assessed by using the ROBINS-I tool, and recommendations based on the evidence will be made using the GRADE approach. Descriptive statistical analyses will be used and if two or more studies report the same outcome, data will be pooled for comparative analysis. A direct comparison meta-analysis will be performed if possible. DISCUSSION: There has been no comparison of coupled and hand-sewn venous anastomoses using a robust and validated methodology preceded by a protocol and performing meta-analysis. Included studies are expected to be mainly observational and prone to bias; however, there is value in summarising the evidence, assessing its risk of bias and performing meta-analysis to guide clinicians. By using a broad approach including all types of flaps, we foresee inherent differences regarding the unit of analysis and different anatomic sites. This will limit the validity of our conclusions but is unavoidable. We will seek unpublished data from authors and perform subgroup analysis where appropriate. Limitations and areas of uncertainty will be discussed to guide future research. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42018110111.