Previous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of infection prevention protocols in reducing infection rates. This study investigated the effects of the development and implementation of an infection prevention protocol that was augmented by increased physician awareness of spinal fusion surgical site infection (SSI) rates and resultant cost savings.
A cohort clinical investigation over a 10-year period was performed at a single tertiary spine care academic institution. Preoperative infection control measures (chlorohexidine gluconate bathing, Staphylococcus aureus nasal screening and decolonization) followed by postoperative infection control measures (surgical dressing care) were implemented. After the implementation of these infection control measures, an awareness intervention was instituted in which all attending and resident neurosurgeons were informed of their individual, independently adjudicated spinal fusion surgery infection rates and rankings among their peers. During the course of these interventions, the overall infection rate was tracked as well as the rates for those neurosurgeons who complied with the preoperative and postoperative infection control measures (protocol group) and those who did not (control group).
With the implementation of postoperative surgical dressing infection control measures and physician awareness, the postoperative spine surgery infection rate decreased by 45% from 3.8% to 2.1% (risk ratio 0.55; 95% CI 0.32–0.93; p = 0.03) for those in the protocol cohort, resulting in an estimated annual cost savings of $291,000. This reduction in infection rate was not observed for neurosurgeons in the control group, although the overall infection rate among all neurosurgeons decreased by 54% from 3.3% to 1.5% (risk ratio 0.46; 95% CI 0.28–0.73; p = 0.0013).
A novel paradigm for spine surgery infection control combined with physician awareness methods resulted in significantly decreased SSI rates and an associated cost reduction. Thus, information sharing and physician engagement as a supplement to formal infection control measures result in improvements in surgical outcomes and costs.