Healthcare News & Insights

New protocols help patients recover faster from surgery

Recovering from surgery can be tough for many patients, and a difficult recovery could lead to a return hospital trip. To avoid this, some hospitals are changing their surgical protocol and adopting practices geared toward an “enhanced recovery.”

200252902-001As discussed in an article in the Wall Street Journal, enhanced recovery protocols have been common in Europe since the turn of the century.

Typical surgical practices such as having patients fast before procedures and giving them powerful narcotics to control the pain after the surgery are physically taxing. And research shows these protocols do more harm than good. They leave patients’ bodies in a weakened state, making them more vulnerable to developing infections and other post-surgical complications.

Even if patients don’t develop serious complications, standard surgical protocols make it harder for their bodies to start functioning normally on their own, which makes for a longer hospital stay.

In fact, researchers at Duke University determined that patients who prepared for surgery under the traditional regimen could be hospitalized for 10 days or more – with a 48% likelihood of developing complications. This would raise medical costs an average of $10,000.

The new enhanced recovery protocols may potentially have the opposite effect on healthcare costs and patient length of stay. They’ve been used to much success on colorectal-surgery patients in the University of Virginia health system.

Compared with patients who underwent surgery using the standard protocols, the hospital saved over $7,120 per patient when using enhanced recovery protocols. Complications were reduced by 17%, and length of stay was decreased by over two days.

Protocol changes

So what exactly falls under the category of “enhanced recovery protocols?” Various changes improve patients’ general physical condition before the surgery begins. Although patients are still limited from eating after midnight before early-morning procedures, two to three hours before surgery, they’re given a special drink with carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins. This keeps their bodies from becoming weak.

Instead of giving patients strong narcotics to deal with pain after surgery, the new protocols take a preemptive approach to pain. Patients are given non-narcotic painkillers before their surgeries. Epidurals are also placed beforehand so they can be used to relieve pain after surgery.

During surgery, patients are monitored more closely so they only receive the IV fluids that are necessary, as too much IV fluid can lead to complications with normal bodily functions. Once the procedure’s finished, they’re encouraged to walk around earlier than they would be under standard surgical protocol, and they’re also allowed to eat solid food a bit sooner.

Another change: Patients are discharged earlier, but with more detailed instructions on how to continue their post-surgical recovery at home.

All in all, these changes are designed to keep patients in as “normal” a state as possible before and after their procedures.

Overcoming challenges

The article does acknowledge the biggest hurdle to implementing these new protocols: convincing surgeons and other providers who’ve conducted surgeries the old way for years to make changes.

For most facilities, the biggest eye-opener for providers was seeing how much better patients recovered with the new protocols.

Looking into these protocols for your facility’s surgeries may prove helpful with reducing readmission rates and boosting patients’ outcomes post-discharge.

As hospitals become more and more responsible for providing high-quality care at a reasonable cost, changes like this can make a big difference in helping patients stay healthy after surgery, which is crucial for a speedy recovery.

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