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Exploring policy makers’ perspectives on a clinical controversy: airway surgery for adult obstructive sleep apnoea


Background and objectives: Worldwide, there is increasing focus on measures to reduce ineffective healthcare practices. Upper airway surgeries for the treatment of adult obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) represent a case-study in this area, given recent publications that draw into question their efficacy. Policy stakeholders were canvassed to assess their perspectives on this.

Design and setting: Senior health policy stakeholders from Australia were criterion and snowball sampled (to identify opinion leaders). Participants were presented with preparatory material and took part in individual semistructured interviews. These focused on eliciting responses to recently published evidence and a relevant Cochrane review. Questions were posed relating to clinical effectiveness and associated policy implications. Interviews were taped and transcribed for thematic analysis. Participant comments were de-identified.

Findings: Ten stakeholders were interviewed before saturation was reached. Thematic analysis highlighted participant concern with the diversity of procedures on offer, coupled with limited effectiveness (suggesting potential clinical uncertainty) and considerations therefore of resource allocation (potential opportunity cost). Stakeholders seem aware of the methodological complexities, the ethical issues raised and the role of patients in considerations regarding appropriateness. Finally, policy stakeholders acknowledge that these procedures appear appropriate only for a minority, with consensus that policy level restrictions to government funding for these procedures may be warranted.

Conclusion: This report highlights that this clinical controversy is of interest and relevance from a policy perspective with lessons and potential implications for clinical practice. It further highlights the need for clinical consensus on definitions of surgical “success” in treating this condition, as this forms an important pretext to policy considerations.

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