Reducing Post-Operative Infections

The cost of responding to infections in patients who have had a joint replacement can be considerable. Tens of thousands of dollars can be wasted when a single individual has a knee or hip replaced but has to have the synthetic joint removed. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in the U.S. health system as the numbers of people having joint replacement surgeries rises.

Risks to Patients Who Experience Infection

If the area around a surgical opening becomes infected, patients experience pain, are prone to needing additional surgery, and need to take antibiotics to combat the problem. Given all of this, such patients frequently require amputation. According to doctors, an infection can linger and grow without being detected for many months, even as long as two years. Fewer than five percent of all patients contract infections, however this amounts to thousands of patients per year.

Where Do Infections Come From?

A lot of infections come from doctors and nurses. Mistakes can be easily made and bacteria get can easily infiltrate a surgical site. The bacteria on one’s own skin often pose the greatest threat of infection.

Staph infection is known to affect many people who remain asymptomatic until their bodies are put under pressure. Bacteria remains on the skin even long after a person washes using soap and water. It is very easy for these pathogens to be transported from one part of the body to another, or from the skin into the bloodstream through open incisions.

How to Lessen the Risk

A federally funded initiative known as Project Joints implemented a regimen to combat the risk of infection in numerous hospitals. Beginning thirty days prior to their scheduled procedure, patients are educated on to how to wash properly before and after a procedure and are given a special preoperative soap to wash with for at least three days prior to an operation.

Project Joints also requires that tests be done to discover if staph bacteria is present in a person’s body using a nasal swab. The initiative also involves cutting hair around the surgical site rather than shaving, so as to prevent small wounds that would permit bacteria to enter into a patient’s bloodstream.

Using Antibiotics

The initiative requires that any incision site be swabbed by nurses with an antiseptic product to remove dirt, bacteria, cosmetics, or whatever remains on the skin immediately prior to the operation. Many doctors also administer precautionary antibiotics, and they also respond aggressively to any positive tests for staph or other infection.

The project also suggests that the smallest details cannot be overlooked. It even encourages patients to make sure their sheets are clean when they go to bed the night before they enter hospital for surgery. Studies show that when these measures are taken, rates of infection drop by more than 50%.