New Solutions Decrease Risk of Colorectal Surgical Site Infection


A project to reduce colorectal surgical site infections (SSIs) saved more than $3.7 million in costs for 135 avoided SSIs. The two-and-a-half year project included seven hospitals and was directed by the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare in collaboration with the American College of Surgeons. 

The participating hospitals were able to reduce superficial incisional SSIs, which affect skin and underlying tissue, by 45 percent and all types of colorectal SSIs by 32 percent. The average length of stay for hospital patients with any type of colorectal SSI decreased from an average of 15 days to 13 days. In comparison, patients with no SSIs had an average length of stay of eight days.

The seven healthcare organizations and systems that volunteered to address colorectal SSIs as a critical patient safety problem were:
 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California
 Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio
 Mayo Clinic-Rochester Methodist Hospital, Rochester, Minnesota
 North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Great Neck, New York
 Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Illinois
 OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, Illinois
 Stanford Hospital & Clinics, Palo Alto, California

Colorectal surgery was identified as the focus of the project because SSIs are disproportionately higher among patients following colorectal surgeries. Colorectal surgery is a common procedure across different types of hospitals, can have significant complications, presents significant opportunities for improvement, and has high variability in performance across hospitals. The project addressed preadmission, preoperative, intraoperative, postoperative and post discharge follow-up processes for all surgical patients undergoing emergency and elective colorectal surgery, with the exception of trauma and transplant patients and patients under the age of 18. Project participants studied the potential factors that contribute to all three types of colorectal SSIs superficial incisional, deep incisional and organ space SSIs, which affect organs and the space surrounding them.

The project addressed the problem of colorectal SSIs using Robust Process Improvement (RPI) methods. RPI is a fact-based, systematic, and data-driven problem-solving methodology that incorporates Lean Six Sigma and change management. Using RPI, project participants measure the magnitude of the problem, pinpoint contributing causes, develop specific solutions that are targeted to each cause and thoroughly test the solutions in real life situations. The hospitals in the SSI project identified 34 unique correlating variables that increased the risk of colorectal SSIs, including patient characteristics, surgical procedure, antibiotic administration, preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative processes, and measurement challenges.

Examples of some of the targeted solutions to reduce superficial incisional colorectal SSIs include standardizing the preoperative instruction to patients and caregivers for applying the preoperative skin cleaning product; and establishing specific criteria for the correct management of specific types of wounds, which promotes healing and helps decrease the risk of developing SSIs. Examples of some of the targeted solutions to reduce all types of colorectal SSIs include warming interventions to ensure that the patients temperature is consistently maintained at the recommended range for optimal wound healing and infection prevention; and establishing solutions such as a weight-based antibiotic dosing protocol in order to address the inadequate administration of antibiotics.

The project used SSI outcomes data from ACSs National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) to guide the improvement effort. NSQIP data on outcomes of surgery are highly regarded by physicians as clinically valid, using detailed medical information on severity of illness and comorbidity to produce data on risk-adjusted outcomes. SSI is one of the most prevalent negative outcomes reported by NSQIP hospitals.

Over the course of the project, it became apparent that the one size fits all approach in measuring and reducing the different levels of colorectal SSIs would not have the same success for all types of colorectal SSIs, especially organ space SSIs. These particularly challenging SSIs require more in-depth investigation, especially in surgical techniques and protocols. Further work is being conducted by pilot organizations to validate measurement tools to identify significant correlating factors that can be improved upon to reduce these more severe types of SSIs.

Reducing surgical site infections is a very real challenge, but one that must be addressed if we want to make health care more reliable in terms of patient safety, says Mark R. Chassin, MD, FACP, MPP, MPH, president of the Joint Commission. These seven organizations are leading the way in finding specific solutions to the complex problem of surgical site infections.

ACS NSQIP uses rigorous data to produce risk-adjusted outcomes.  By collaborating with the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare on this surgical site infection project, weve made meaningful progress in learning how we can reduce the SSI rate in colorectal surgical patients and concomitantly produce a savings in costs at the same time. These results give the surgical community further impetus to continue working to solve this critical surgical care quality issue, says Clifford Y. Ko, MD, MS, MSHS, FACS, director of the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program and the ACS Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care. The problem has been identified, and the targeted steps were taking are helping us to solve it. As increasingly more hospitals and individual providers get involved to study, learn, and improve upon their results, the benefits will be enormous for everyone, but most importantly, for our patients.

This vital project has rendered measureable results in reducing surgical site infections a major source of preventable patient harm and greater health care costs, says David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. Our partnership with the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare to reduce surgical site infections is helping participating hospitals save millions of dollars annually, and it is engaging surgical teams to become more effective in promoting a culture of surgical patient safety, which is our foremost priority.

Solutions for colorectal SSIs will be added to the Targeted Solutions Tool (TST) in 2013 after the learning and tools from this project are pilot tested in other healthcare organizations. The TST provides a step-by-step process to assist Joint Commission-accredited healthcare organizations in measuring performance, identifying barriers to excellent performance, and implementing the Centers proven solutions that are customized to address specific barriers. Targeted solutions are now available for improving hand hygiene, hand-off communications and wrong site surgery. Accredited organizations can access the TST and solutions on their secure Joint Commission Connect extranet.

The Center is supported by the American Hospital Association, BD, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Cardinal Health, Ecolab, GE Healthcare, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Johnson & Johnson and Medline Industries, as well as the support of GOJO Industries, Inc; The ARAMARK Charitable Fund and Federation of American Hospitals.

For more information about the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, visit 

Source: Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare

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