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Neurosurgery. 2005 Apr;56(4):755-62; discussion 755-62.

Assessment of the learning curve for lumbar microendoscopic discectomy.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia.



An understanding of the learning curve of a new surgical procedure is essential for its safe clinical integration, teaching, and assessment. This knowledge is currently deficient for lumbar microendoscopic discectomy (MED). The present article aims to profile the learning curve for MED of an individual surgeon in a hospital not previously exposed to this procedure.


The first 35 cases of MED for posterolateral lumbar disc prolapse causing radiculopathy performed at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia, were studied prospectively. The learning curve was assessed using surgery time, conversion rate, complication rate, surgeon "comfort," and key learning steps.


The duration of surgical operating time decreased over the course of the study, initially rapidly and then more gradually. There were three conversions to open discectomy in the first 7 cases and none in the next 28 cases. The complexity of cases increased over the series, and the complication rate decreased. The asymptote of the learning curve seems to be approximately 30 cases. The specific learning tasks of MED include lateral lamina radiology, scope vision, visuospatial orientation, smaller field of view, angle of approach and tube position, and care and handling of endoscope equipment.


A learning curve for MED has been demonstrated. Further assessment of this curve for a population of surgeons is necessary before a clinical assessment of open discectomy versus MED can be embarked upon.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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