Question 6

Compare and contrast percutaneous and surgical tracheostomy.

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College Answer

Surgical tracheostomy is the time-honoured approach.   Best operating conditions (coping with complexities of anatomy), best control of bleeding and airway. Requires operating time and staff, and  transport  to  operating  theatre.    Lower  incidence  of  peri-operative  complications.    Higher incidence of tracheal stenosis, postoperative bleeding and stomal infection.

Percutaneous tracheostomy refers to a number of different techniques.  In particular the gradual dilatation   [Ciaglia],   forceps  dilation   [Griggs],   Rhino   and  translaryngeal   techniques.     Most comparative   data  is  for  the  Ciaglia   technique.      Blind   external   technique   (which   can   be bronchoscopy assisted to improve visualization/placement) which seems to be significantly operator dependent.    Some  neck  anatomy  problems  provide  relative  contraindications.  Permits  smaller incision, but lesser exposure and not usually performed with diathermy available.  Only require intensive care staff, though airway maintenance is probably more critical, with respiratory acidosis and loss of airway more likely.  No delays due to theatre requirements, no transport required, and takes less time to perform.  Higher incidence of anterior tracheal wall injury and posterior wall perforation.  Lower incidence of postoperative haemorrhage, infection and tracheal stenosis.


This question lends itself well to a tabulated answer.


Surgical tracheostomy

Percutaneous tracheostomy


  • Gold standard for difficult anatomy
  • Better control of bleeding
  • Fewer intraoperative complications
  • Less postprocedural complications such as accidental decannulation,  bleeding  and wound infection. (Dulguerov et al, 1999)
  • Less bleeding risk (smaller hole)
  • Lower incidence of tracheal stenosis
  • Lower incidence of tracheal infection
    Johnson-Obaseki et al (2016)
  • The cosmetic effect is better
  • No transfer, thus no risks of transfer
  • Cheaper
  • Faster (10-15 minutes)
  • More easily available in the ICU
  • Decreases length of stay in ICU (if early tracheostomy:  Griffiths  et al, 2006)


  • More postprocedural complications
  • Higher incidence of tracheal stenosis
  • Higher incidence of stomal infections
  • Expensive; requires the operating theatre to be fully staffed
  • Takes longer to roganise
  • Exposes patients to risk of transfer
  • Inadequate backup for major complications or difficult anatomy.
  • Much of the technique is essentially blind.
  • Diathermy is not available in ICU
  • Cardiothoracic surgical support is lacking
  • Bronchoscopy is required for safety 
  • The bronchoscope may get damaged
  • Disposable percutaneous kits cost more than a bedside surgical tracheostomy
  • There is a greater risk of death and cardiac arrest. (Dulguerov et al, 1999)
  • Some intraoperative complications are unique to percutenous technique (eg. knotted guide wire)


Durbin, Charles G. "Indications for and timing of tracheostomy." Respiratory care 50.4 (2005): 483-487.

Kilic, Dalokay, et al. "Article When is Surgical Tracheostomy Indicated? Surgical “U-shaped” versus Percutaneous Tracheostomy." Ann Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 17.1 (2011): 29-32.

De Leyn, Paul, et al. "Tracheotomy: clinical review and guidelines." European Journal of Cardio-thoracic Surgery 32.3 (2007): 412-421.

Friedman, Yaakov, et al. "Comparison of percutaneous and surgical tracheostomies." CHEST Journal 110.2 (1996): 480-485.

Dulguerov, Pavel, et al. "Percutaneous or surgical tracheostomy: a meta-analysis." Critical care medicine 27.8 (1999): 1617-1625.

Duann, Chi‐Wei, et al. "Successful percutaneous tracheostomy via puncture through the thyroid isthmus." Respirology Case Reports 2.2 (2014): 57-60.

Friedman, Yaakov, et al. "Comparison of percutaneous and surgical tracheostomies." CHEST Journal 110.2 (1996): 480-485.

Dulguerov, Pavel, et al. "Percutaneous or surgical tracheostomy: a meta-analysis." Critical care medicine 27.8 (1999): 1617-1625.

Griffiths, John, et al. "Systematic review and meta-analysis of studies of the timing of tracheostomy in adult patients undergoing artificial ventilation." Bmj 330.7502 (2005): 1243.

Johnson‐Obaseki, Stephanie, Andrea Veljkovic, and Hedyeh Javidnia. "Complication rates of open surgical versus percutaneous tracheostomy in critically ill patients." The Laryngoscope (2016).

Dempsey, Ged A., et al. "Long-Term Outcome Following Tracheostomy in Critical Care: A Systematic Review." Critical Care Medicine (2016).