Surgical Advances at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center Help Reduce Infection Rates
“It’s a little idea, but it’s making a big difference for the safety our patients,” said Mandy Clinch, coordinator of the Joint Replacement Program at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center.
For the past eight months PeaceHealth St. John has used an innovative new method to treat the incisions made during joint replacement surgery. National studies show that 1.3 percent of patients report a complication following their surgery, most commonly due to infection at the site of the incision.
“At some point in our lives, we’ve all had a wound that needed to heal properly,” said Clinch. "For generations we’ve used the same process - disinfect the wound, apply a sterile bandage or gauze, then secure it with tape or a wrap. That’s fine for the first day, but soon enough the bandage will need to be changed. Patients who have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering at home aren’t experts at changing these dressings, and it increases their risk of infection. It’s a problem across the country.”
PeaceHealth St. John’s surgical team has embraced a post-surgery wound care program that has made a big impact on reducing infection rates. It’s a new program, but an old idea.
“Hundreds of years before the discovery of microbes or the invention of antibiotics, people used silver to protect wounds from infection,” said William Turner, MD, Medical Director for the PeaceHealth Joint Replacement program. “Pioneers of the American West found that if they placed silver coins in their casks of drinking water, it kept the water safe from bacteria. We’re just bringing this 19th century idea into the 21st century.”
After a joint replacement surgery, the surgical team closes the incision and covers it with an adhesive strip embedded with silver. Laboratory testing has shown that the silver reduces bacterial growth like staph, aureaus, e.coli, e.hirae and pseudomonas aeruginosa (a powerful germ that does not respond to many antibacterials.
“After the silver strip is applied, we secure it with a new type of bandage,” said Turner. “Instead of the Ace bandage that we’re all familiar with, we are now using a honeycombed adhesive bandage. The honeycomb allows air to circulate, helping the healing process. It’s water resistant, so the patient can wear it in the shower. It doesn’t need to be changed like a traditional bandage, so the patient’s risk of infection is greatly reduced.”
“Since we started using the process, our post-surgical infection rates have dropped noticeably,” said Clinch. “Our patient safety rates are significantly better than the national average. We’re one of the very first hospitals in the state of Washington to use this process, but I’m sure others will follow suit when they learn about our great results!”