Viscoelastic testing inside and beyond the operating room
Hemorrhage is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality during the perioperative period. Current methods of diagnosing coagulopathy have various limitations including long laboratory runtimes, lack of information on specific abnormalities of the coagulation cascade, lack of in vivo applicability, and lack of ability to guide the transfusion of blood products. Viscoelastic testing offers a promising solution to many of these problems. The two most-studied systems, thromboelastography (TEG) and rotational thromboelastometry (ROTEM), offer similar graphical and numerical representations of the initiation, formation, and lysis of clot. In systematic reviews on the clinical efficacy of viscoelastic tests, the majority of trials analyzed were in cardiac surgery patients. Reviews of the literature suggest that transfusions of packed red blood cells (pRBC), plasma, and platelets are all decreased in patients whose transfusions were guided by viscoelastic tests rather than by clinical judgement or conventional laboratory tests. Mortality appears to be lower in the viscoelastic testing groups, despite no difference in surgical re-intervention rates and massive transfusion rates. Cost-effectiveness studies also seem to favor viscoelastic testing. Viscoelastic testing has also been investigated in small studies in other clinical contexts, such as sepsis, obstetric hemorrhage, inherited bleeding disorders, perioperative thromboembolism risk assessment, and management of anticoagulation for patients on mechanical circulatory support systems or direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs). While the results are intriguing, no systematic, larger trials have taken place to date. Viscoelastic testing remains a relatively novel method to assess coagulation status, and evidence for its use appears favorable in reducing blood product transfusions, especially in cardiac surgery patients.