Frequency of Potentially Avoidable Surgical Referrals for Asymptomatic Umbilical Hernias in Children


      • 33% of all umbilical hernia referrals are potentially avoidable.
      • 68% of referrals in children <3 y are potentially avoidable.
      • Rates of avoidable referrals remained unchanged following guideline release.



      The American Association of Pediatrics released guidelines in 2019 recommending delay of surgical referral in children with asymptomatic umbilical hernias until 4-5 y of age. The purpose of this study was to assess contemporary rates of potentially avoidable referrals in this cohort of children, and to assess whether rates have decreased following guideline release.


      Retrospective analysis of umbilical hernias referrals evaluated at a single pediatric surgery clinic from October 2014 to August 2021. Potentially avoidable referrals (PAR) were defined as asymptomatic, non-enlarging umbilical hernia referrals in a child 3 y of age or younger without a history of incarceration. Referral indication, disposition following clinic visit, and rates of PAR were compared before and after guideline release.


      A total of 803 umbilical hernia referrals were evaluated, of which 48% were in children 3 y of age or younger at time of evaluation (“early” referrals). 33% of all referrals and 68% of early referrals were categorized as a PAR, and rates were similar before and after guideline release (all referrals: 32% versus 33%, P = 0.94; early referrals: 68% versus 67%, P = 0.94). Of the 333 early referrals who were managed expectantly per guideline recommendations, 2 (0.6%) developed incarceration which was managed with successful reduction and interval repair.


      One-third of all referrals for umbilical hernia evaluation are potentially avoidable, and this rate did not change following release of American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Aligning expectations between surgeons and referring providers through improved education and guideline dissemination may reduce avoidable visits, lost caregiver productivity, and exposure to potentially avoidable surgery.


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