Decrease hospital-acquired infections by keeping the room out of the patient: low-lint solutions for better surgical outcomes

Among all of the things that can go wrong in a surgical procedure, issues with lint or other bits of cellulose-based particulate matter don't typically jump to mind.

But complications from these materials, which are all ubiquitous in the surgical environment, are more common than many realize and can have devastating consequences for patients.

In a June webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Cardinal Health Presource, experts in the field discussed the problems associated with fiber, lint and particle contaminants in healthcare environments — and emerging solutions. The webinar was moderated by George Adams, MD, director of cardiology and peripheral vascular research at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. and associate professor of cardiology, UNC School of Medicine. Speakers were John Laird, MD, interventional cardiologist and medical director at Adventist Heart and Vascular Institute in St. Helena, Calif., and Wava Truscott, RN, PhD, president of Truscott MedSci Associates LLC.

Three key takeaways were:

1. Lint may be small and sterile in a surgical environment, but it can still cause major complications. Cellulose-based bits of lint from clothing, drapes, gowns, wound dressings and other items can cause or amplify surgical complications such as thrombi, inflammation, adhesions, granulomas and poor-quality wound healing. 

For example, a LASIK eye surgeon had complications in more than 100 surgeries over the course of several years. Lint was being attracted to the electrical field created by some of the surgical instruments; part of the problem turned out to be incorrect installation of a filter in the ventilation system. "He actually lost his LASIK surgery practice due to these issues," Dr. Truscott said. "Lint, powder and other particles matter." 

2. Lint can distract the body's immune system and create an environment ripe for infection. The part of the immune system responsible for attacking foreign invaders like germs is easily "distracted" by bits of particulate matter, Dr. Truscott said, such as bits of cotton from gauze. 

That can create an environment where unchecked bacteria can rapidly multiply. "We have all of these advanced technologies, complicated procedures, complicated devices," Dr. Laird said. "And yet we're still using this crappy cotton gauze to wipe off our catheters and wires during the procedures."

3. Emerging solutions offer alternatives to reduce cellulose-based lint contamination. Cardinal Health makes a suite of products to address lint issues in surgery and procedures. For example, the "Swiper" product — an alternative to cotton gauze — has fewer than 7,000 non-cellulose particulates compared to a cotton gauze pad that will have more than a million cellulose-based particulates. Fiber-free cleaning applications include guide wires, catheters, gloves, surgical instruments and implantable devices; and other products include sponges and towels.

Fibers and lint from traditionally used lap pads, gauze and other operating room staples have been shown to affect patient outcomes. Companies like Cardinal Health offer alterative solutions that hold promise for a new way of using materials to reduce lint and other matter in the OR — with significant benefits for patients and providers.

To register for upcoming webinars, click here.

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