Many Americans will face a surgical procedure this year. An increasing number of these surgeries will be ambulatory in nature, allowing the patient to convalesce in their home instead of being hospitalized.

In fact, according to the most recent statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 48 million ambulatory surgical procedures are performed annually. This number is expected to see rapid growth as surgical procedures are increasingly simplified and improved, often through the increased use of less invasive techniques, such as laparoscopic and robotic surgical options.

However, even with these improvements, patients must still understand that all types of surgery, including ambulatory procedures, carry a risk of complications from surgical site infections (SSI).

Understand SSIs

Wound health is critical to the healing process in any invasive surgical procedure, no matter how minor. If the skin becomes infected in the area of the surgical wound, the SSI is considered to be superficial. However, when tissues, organs, or implanted materials are involved below skin level, the SSI becomes much more serious.

Recognize the Signs

Patients who have inpatient procedures remain hospitalized for a period of time afterward to be closely monitored by hospital staff for any signs of surgical site infection. Because ambulatory patients typically go home within hours of the procedure, they may not have the benefit of this type of observation.

To overcome this problem, ambulatory surgical patients must learn to recognize the signs of a developing SSI, including:

  • Increased heat, pain, swelling, or discomfort in the area of the surgical wound
  • Changes in skin color in the immediate area of the wound, such as a deepening shade of red or a bruised appearance
  • Fluid drainage from the wound

Surgical site infections can be present even when visible changes in the wound are not noted. A medical team should immediately evaluate patients who experience either a low-grade fever after surgery or a sudden spike in body temperature in the days afterward to rule out the possibility of an SSI.

Treat SSIs

When symptoms of an SSI are noted quickly, treatment at home may be possible, if the infection is superficial in nature. In most cases, this treatment would include a combination of in-home wound care by a visiting professional, careful monitoring by the patient’s medical care team, and a regimen of oral antibiotics to clear the infection.

If the infection involves tissues, organs, or implanted materials within the body, hospitalization may be necessary to safely manage the problem and help speed healing.

When ambulatory surgical patients suffer a surgical site infection and require in-patient treatment, they are usually given intravenous antibiotic treatment. However, surgical site infections that occur below skin level may also require reopening the wound to drain fluid, remove dead tissue, and clean the infection site.

Reduce the Risks

Ambulatory surgical patients can help to reduce the risk of development of this type of infection by emulating the routine procedures hospitals and surgical centers use while caring for their wound. These include:

  • Keeping the wound site clean
  • Engaging in frequent hand washing and the use of liquid hand sanitizers
  • Changing dressings as directed by their medical care team
  • Opting to wear sterile gloves when changing dressings or checking the wound
  • Taking any prescribed antibiotics as directed
  • Attending all scheduled medical care appointments and making sure to alert their surgeon or attending physician whenever a potential problem is noted

Since smoking can slow most types of wound healing, ambulatory surgical patients who smoke must also refrain from smoking until their wound is completely healed.

SSI can also be a greater risk for ambulatory patients who have some types of existing health issues, including diabetes and obesity. Ambulatory surgical patients who take some types of prescription medications, illegal drugs, or over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and medications, may also be at increased risk for infection.

Notify your surgical team of any preexisting conditions or usage of prescription or OTC medications or supplements before scheduling the procedure. Remember, patients may not qualify for an ambulatory procedure if their surgeons feel they are at an increased risk of developing a surgical site infection or some other complication. Instead, these patients may be required to have an inpatient procedure.

Do More

In cases where the procedure is elective and not considered to be time-sensitive, you may be able to work with the surgeon to reduce any risks in order to qualify for a later ambulatory procedure. You can reduce the risk by undergoing treatment to stabilize blood sugar levels, losing weight, or stopping the use of any unapproved medications or substances for a period of time before scheduling the procedure.

Ambulatory surgeries are often the best choice for patients undergoing minor procedures because they are usually far less invasive. But it is important to remember that real risks can exist for any surgical procedure.

When considering any type of surgery, choose care from an accredited provider with an excellent reputation for putting their patient’s health first. Since 1977, The Surgical Clinic has provided patients throughout Middle Tennessee with expert, patient-focused care. Contact us today to learn more about what we offer and how we can help you and your loved ones.