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Valley Regional Hospital initiative comforts and reduces infection in patients

Photo of Amy Rockwell, the NSQIP surgical clinical nurse reviewer at Valley Regional Hospital.

Patients having surgery at Valley Regional Hospital (VRH) will get a sense of warmth and comfort through specialized warming systems being used to enhance patient safety and care. 

The initiative stemmed from Nova Scotia Health’s participation in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP), which collects information on patients 30 days after their surgeries and uses the data on surgical outcomes to highlight areas for improvement and best practices to share and spread.

Regulating patient’s body temperatures before, during and after their surgeries, was flagged by NSQIP and Perioperative (surgical) Services teams as being one of many key factors in overall efforts to prevent surgical site infections.

During surgery, a patient’s body temperature can decrease below normal levels. This is called hypothermia and not only can patients experience discomfort from shivering, but it also places them at a higher risk for surgical site infections, blood loss and other negative outcomes. 

A steady core body temperature between 36°C to 38°C is considered normal, or normothermia in medical terms. Normothermia is proven to reduce surgical site infections, the need for pain medication and can also help reduce stress and anxiety. 

Since December, Valley Regional Hospital has been using special warming systems to help maintain and monitor patients’ temperatures and offer them a sense of comfort before, during, and in their recovery from surgery.

The normothermia system consists of a warming gown attached to a small blower that circulates warm air to the patient 30 minutes before their surgery. The patient is continually warmed with a blanket during their surgery, and in recovery is connected to a portable system where they can safely control the temperature settings after waking up. 

“When patients wake up after surgery, keeping them warm is one way to reduce their risk of infection but also increases their comfort and care,” says Amy Rockwell, the NSQIP surgical clinical nurse reviewer at Valley Regional Hospital, who has been part of the initiative to bring the warming system to surgical patients. 

“Patients love the warming blankets. Having surgery can be stressful, but we find our patients wake up calmer after surgery. They are not shivering and feel like they have some sense of control in the recovery room,” says Rockwell. “Because normothermia decreases the need for anxiety medications and pain medications in the recovery room, it can often lead to quicker discharge times as well, since patients are not as drowsy and their vital signs are normal.”

In her role, Rockwell spends a lot of time reviewing charts for information on patient outcomes and connecting with patients following their surgery.

“Complications such as infections can result in patient discomfort, patients having to return to hospital, or visits to an emergency department or primary care clinics, so it important that our team works towards solutions that can reduce these occurrences and provide better care.”

The warming systems are widely used in many Nova Scotia Health facilities currently and are being rolled out in other facilities across the province. Currently, the system is being used for patients undergoing scheduled surgeries longer than 30 minutes and Rockwell is already noticing improved patient outcomes.

“It is rewarding for our teams to see initiatives like this one have a direct benefit for our patients. We have a wonderful team that care for patients and their families, and we are proud to be using our data to drive healthcare projects like this one that contribute to the well-being of Nova Scotians.”

Quality improvement initiatives like these are part of Nova Scotia Health’s overall efforts to help patients get better results from their surgery and improve access to surgical care. Preventing infections helps reduce the time patients spend in hospital, the need to readmit patients to hospital, and visits to other services, saving vital healthcare resources to improve access and care for all. 

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