BACKGROUND: Major surgery is a term frequently used but poorly defined. The aim of the present study was to reach a consensus in the definition of major surgery within a panel of expert surgeons from the European Surgical Association (ESA).
METHODS: A 3-round Delphi process was performed. All ESA members were invited to participate in the expert panel. In round 1, experts were inquired by open- and closed-ended questions on potential criteria to define major surgery. Results were analyzed and presented back anonymously to the panel within next rounds. Closed-ended questions in round 2 and 3 were either binary or statements to be rated on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (strong disagreement) to 5 (strong agreement). Participants were sent 3 reminders at 2-week intervals for each round. 70% of agreement was considered to indicate consensus.
RESULTS: Out of 305 ESA members, 67 (22%) answered all the 3 rounds. Significant comorbidities were the only preoperative factor retained to define major surgery (78%). Vascular clampage or organ ischemia (92%), high intraoperative blood loss (90%), high noradrenalin requirements (77%), long operative time (73%) and perioperative blood transfusion (70%) were procedure-related factors that reached consensus. Regarding postoperative factors, systemic inflammatory response (76%) and the need for intensive or intermediate care (88%) reached consensus. Consequences of major surgery were high morbidity (>30% overall) and mortality (>2%).
CONCLUSION: ESA experts defined major surgery according to extent and complexity of the procedure, its pathophysiological consequences and consecutive clinical outcomes.