Opportunities and challenges of intermittent and continuous intraoperative neural monitoring in thyroid surgery
The number of thyroid operations and there radically continues to rise in the western hemisphere, bringing prevention of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) palsy to the fore. Overall, the incidence of RLN palsy is fairly low but continues to prompt litigation for malpractice. In an effort to diminish transient, and more importantly permanent, RLN palsy rates, intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM) has been advocated as a risk minimization tool. Recent meta-analyses of studies, many of which were limited by poor study design and the sole use of intermittent nerve stimulation, were unable to demonstrate superiority of IONM over mere anatomic RLN dissection. This is where continuous IONM (CIONM) comes into play: this technology enables the surgeon to (I) identify impending nerve injury as it unfolds; (II) release distressed nerves by reversing causative surgical maneuvers; and (III) verify functional nerve recovery after intraoperative loss of the electromygraphic signal. Despite this superiority, CIONM is not devoid of methodological limitations, which need to be accounted for. This review summarizes the current key achievements of IONM; outlines opportunities for improvement regarding clinical implementation; and suggests areas of future research in this rapidly evolving field.