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DESCRIPTIONAnal fistula plugs (AFPs) are biosynthetic devices used to promote healing and prevent recurrence of anal fistulas. The conical shaped plug is anchored in the anal fistula and acts as a scaffold into which new tissue can grow to close the fistula. They are proposed as an alternative to procedures including fistulotomy, endorectal advancement flaps, seton drain placement, and use of fibrin glue in the treatment of anal fistulas.
An anal fistula is an abnormal communication between the interior of the anal canal or rectum and the skin surface. Rarer forms may communicate with the vagina or other pelvic structures, including the bowel. Most fistulas begin as anorectal abscesses, which are thought to arise from infection in the glands around the anal canal. When the abscess opens spontaneously into the anal canal (or has been opened surgically), a fistula may occur. Studies have reported that 26% to 37% of cases of perianal abscesses eventually form anal fistulas.
Other causes of fistulas include tuberculosis, cancer, prior radiotherapy, and inflammatory bowel disease. Fistulas may occur singly or in multiples. Symptoms include a purulent discharge and drainage of pus and/or stool near the anus, which can irritate the outer tissues causing itching and discomfort. Pain occurs when fistulas become blocked and abscesses recur. Flatus may also escape from the fistulous tract.
The most widely used classification of anal fistulas is the Parks classification system, which defines anal fistulas by their position relative to the anal sphincter as trans-sphincteric, intersphincteric, suprasphincteric, or extrasphincteric. More simply, anal fistulas are described as low (present distally and not extending up to the anorectal sling) or high (extending up to or beyond the anorectal sling). The repair of high fistulas can be associated with incontinence. Diagnosis may involve a fistula probe, anoscopy, fistulography, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging.
Treatment is aimed at repairing the fistula without compromising continence.
Surgical treatments for anal fistulas include fistulotomy/fistulectomy, endorectal/anal sliding flaps, ligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract (LIFT) technique, seton drain, and fibrin glue. Fistulotomy involves division of the tissue over the fistula and laying open of the fistula tract. Although fistulotomies are widely used for low fistulas, lay-open fistulotomies in high fistulas carries risk of incontinence. A seton is a thread placed through the fistula tract for the purpose of draining fistula material and preventing the development of a perianal infection. Draining setons can control sepsis but few patients heal after removal of the seton, and the procedure is poorly tolerated long term. A “cutting seton” refers to the process of regular tightening of the seton to encourage gradual cutting of the sphincteric muscle with subsequent inflammation and fibrosis. Cutting setons can cause continence disturbances. Endorectal advancement flaps involve the advancement of a full or partial thickness flap of the proximal rectal wall over the internal (rectal) opening of the fistula tract. The LIFT technique involves identifying the intersphincteric plane and then dividing the fistula tract; its use has been reported in small studies, but long-term follow-up is unavailable. Fibrin glue is a combination of fibrinogen, thrombin, and calcium in a matrix, which is injected into the fistula track. The glue induces clot formation within the tract, which is then closed through overgrowth of new tissue.
Fistula plugs are designed to provide a structure that acts as a scaffold for new tissue growth. The scaffold, which can be derived from animal (eg, porcine) tissue or a synthetic copolymer fiber, is degraded by hydrolytic or enzymatic pathways as healing progresses. The plug is pulled through the fistula tract and secured at the fistula’s proximal opening; the fistula tract is left open at the distal opening to allow drainage.
A fistula plug derived from autologous cartilage tissue has been investigated in a small (n=10) pilot study.
Several plugs for fistula repair have received clearance for marketing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration through the 510(k) process and are outlined in the table below.
Devices for Anal Fistula Repair
POLICYBiosynthetic fistula plugs, including plugs made of porcine small intestine submucosa or of synthetic material are considered investigational for the repair of anal fistulas.
POLICY EXCEPTIONSFederal Employee Program (FEP) may dictate that all FDA-approved devices, drugs or biologics may not be considered investigational and thus these devices may be assessed only on the basis of their medical necessity.
POLICY GUIDELINESInvestigative is defined as the use of any treatment procedure, facility, equipment, drug, device, or supply not yet recognized as a generally accepted standard of good medical practice for the treatment of the condition being treated and; therefore, is not considered medically necessary. For the definition of Investigative, “generally accepted standards of medical practice” means standards that are based on credible scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed medical literature generally recognized by the relevant medical community, and physician specialty society recommendations, and the views of medical practitioners practicing in relevant clinical areas and any other relevant factors. In order for equipment, devices, drugs or supplies [i.e, technologies], to be considered not investigative, the technology must have final approval from the appropriate governmental bodies, and scientific evidence must permit conclusions concerning the effect of the technology on health outcomes, and the technology must improve the net health outcome, and the technology must be as beneficial as any established alternative and the improvement must be attainable outside the testing/investigational setting.
The coverage guidelines outlined in the Medical Policy Manual should not be used in lieu of the Member’s specific benefit plan language.
POLICY HISTORY04/20/2010: New policy added.
07/29/2011: Policy reviewed; no changes.
07/17/2012: Policy reviewed; no changes.
11/15/2013: Policy reviewed; no changes.
12/02/2014: Policy reviewed; description revised. Policy statement unchanged.
08/04/2015: Code Reference section updated for ICD-10.
11/17/2015: Policy title changed from "Plugs for Fistula Repair" to "Plugs for Anal Fistula Repair." Policy description updated regarding devices. Policy statement revised to clarify that biosynthetic fistula plugs are considered investigational for the repair of anal fistulas. It previously stated: Biosynthetic fistula plugs, including plugs made of porcine small intestine submucosa or of synthetic material are considered investigational for all indications including, but not limited to, repair of anal and rectal fistulas. Investigative definition updated in policy guidelines section.
SOURCESBlue Cross Blue Shield Association Policy # 7.01.123
CODE REFERENCEThis may not be a comprehensive list of procedure codes applicable to this policy.