Can Automated Prompts Reduce Surgical Site Infections?

John Commins, July 20, 2016

More than 90% of patients surveyed followed preoperative protocols to prevent surgical site infections. Researchers believe this inexpensive strategy will reduce SSIs.

A common sense-based by medical students at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provides a good example of the benefits of patient engagement.

The research, led by second-year students Michelle Keyin Lu and Christopher Chermside-Scabbo, looked at patient engagement as a tool in reducing surgical site infection. It is the third most common healthcare-associated infection, adversely affecting more than 500,000 patients each year.

Lu, Chermside-Scabbo, and their student-colleagues measured the effect of an automated text and voice messaging system to improved communication with orthopedic surgery patients.

The daily prompts reminded the patients a week before their operations to use antibiotic skin ointments and body wash, and in the two weeks after surgery the daily prompts coached patients on the warning signs of infections, such as pain, redness, odor, and discharge.

Lu and Chermside-Scabbo presented their findings this week at the 2016 American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program Conference in San Diego. The automated prompt system was developed by Epharmix, a healthcare information technology startup company founded by students from the Washington University School of Medicine

Chermside-Scabbo and Lu are independent researchers at Epharmix, and neither holds a position in the company.  

NSQIP encourages the use of preoperative antibiotics to decrease SSIs but only half of patients comply with the protocols. Relatively speaking, orthopedic procedures have a low SSI rate, ranging from 0.7 to 2.1 infections for every 100 cases.

Orthopedic surgery patients with SSIs, however, also have a two times higher rate of rehospitalization and a 300% increase in treatment costs.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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