Program Profile

Preoperative Insulin Intensification to Improve Day of Surgery Blood Glucose Control

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Background: Guidelines offer varying recommendations for preoperative long-acting basal insulin dosing, despite mounting evidence of the advantages of maintaining perioperative glucose levels between 80 and 180 mg/dL.

Observations: We iteratively adjusted health care practitioner (HCP) instructions to intensify insulin dosing on the evening before surgery for 195 consecutive patients with diabetes mellitus treated with long-acting basal insulin with an evening dosage. Baseline data was collected in phase 1. In phase 2, the preoperative insulin dose on the evening before surgery was increased for patients with hemoglobin A 1c (HbA 1c ) > 8%; in phase 3, it was increased for patients with HbA 1c ≤ 8% while sustaining the phase 2 change. Increased preoperative insulin doses did not change the rates of day of surgery (DOS) hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. Overall, HCP adherence to the modified protocols was high (89%). A decline in HCP adherence after phase 2 protocol change was associated with a transient increase in DOS hyperglycemia. Patient adherence to preoperative medication instructions was high (86%) and was not affected by protocol changes.

Conclusions: Preoperative insulin intensification the evening before surgery did not change rates of DOS hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. HCP adherence decreased transiently, which briefly increased DOS hyperglycemia rates in some patients.



Perioperative hyperglycemia, defined as blood glucose levels ≥ 180 mg/dL in the immediate pre- and postoperative period, is associated with increased postoperative morbidity, including infections, preoperative interventions, and in-hospital mortality.1-3 Despite being identified as a barrier to optimal perioperative glycemic control, limited evidence is available on patient or health care practitioner (HCP) adherence to preoperative insulin protocols.4-6


Despite mounting evidence of the advantages of maintaining perioperative glucose levels between 80 and 180 mg/dL, available guidelines vary in their recommendations for long-acting basal insulin dosing.7-10 The Society of Ambulatory Anesthesia suggests using 100% of the prescribed evening dosage of long-acting basal insulin dose on the night before surgery in patients without a history of nocturnal or morning hypoglycemia (category 2A evidence).9 However, the revised 2016 United Kingdom National Health Service consensus guideline recommends using 80% to 100% of the prescribed evening dosage of long-acting basal insulin dose on the night before surgery.7 The 2022 American Diabetes Association references an observational study of patients with type 2 DM (T2DM) treated with evening-only, long-acting glargine insulin, indicating that the optimal basal insulin dose on the evening before surgery is about 75% of the outpatient dose.5,10 However, in a randomized, prospective open trial of patients with DM treated with evening-only long-acting basal insulin, no significant difference was noted in the target day of surgery (DOS) glucose levels among different dosing strategies on the evening before surgery.6 Presently, the optimal dose of long-acting insulin analogs on the evening before surgery is unknown.

Additionally, little is known about the other factors that influence perioperative glycemic control. Several barriers to optimal perioperative care of patients with DM have been identified, including lack of prioritization by HCPs, lack of knowledge about current evidence-based recommendations, and lack of patient information and involvement.4 To determine the effect of patient adherence to preoperative medication instructions on postoperative outcome, a cross-sectional study assessed surgical patients admitted to the postanesthetic care unit (PACU) and found that only 70% of patients with insulin-treated DM took their medications preoperatively. Additionally, 23% of nonadherent patients who omitted their medications either did not understand or forgot preoperative medication management instructions. Preoperative DM medication omission was associated with higher rates of hyperglycemia in the PACU (23.8% vs 3.6%; P = .02).11 Importantly, to our knowledge, the extent of HCP adherence to DM management protocols and the subsequent effect on DOS hyperglycemia has not been examined until now.For patients with DM treated with an evening dose of long-acting basal insulin (ie, either once-daily long-acting basal insulin in the evening or twice-daily long-acting basal insulin, both morning and evening) presenting for elective noncardiac surgery, our aim was to decrease the rate of DOS hyperglycemia from 29% (our baseline) to 15% by intensifying the dose of insulin on the evening before surgery without increasing the rate of hypoglycemia. We also sought to determine the rates of HCP adherence to our insulin protocols as well as patients’ self-reported adherence to HCP instructions over the course of this quality improvement (QI) initiative.

Quality Improvement Program

Our surgical department consists of 11 surgical subspecialties that performed approximately 4400 noncardiac surgeries in 2019. All patients undergoing elective surgery are evaluated in the preoperative clinic, which is staffed by an anesthesiology professional (attending and resident physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) and internal medicine attending physicians. At the preoperative visit, each patient is evaluated by anesthesiology; medically complex patients may also be referred to an internal medicine professional for further risk stratification and optimization before surgery.

At the preoperative clinic visit, HCPs prepare written patient instructions for the preoperative management of medications, including glucose-lowering medications, based on a DM management protocol that was implemented in 2016 for the preoperative management of insulin, noninsulin injectable agents, and oral hyperglycemic agents. According to this protocol, patients with DM treated with evening long-acting basal insulin (eg, glargine insulin) are instructed to take 50% of their usual evening dose the evening before surgery. A preoperative clinic nurse reviews the final preoperative medication instructions with the patient at the end of the clinic visit. Patients are also instructed to avoid oral intake other than water and necessary medications after midnight before surgery regardless of the time of surgery. On the DOS, the patient’s blood glucose level is measured on arrival to the presurgical area.

Our QI initiative focused only on the dose of self-administered, long-acting basal insulin on the evening before surgery. The effect of the morning of surgery long-acting insulin dose on the DOS glucose levels largely depends on the timing of surgery, which is variable; therefore, we did not target this dose for our initiative. Patients receiving intermediate-acting neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin were excluded because our protocol does not recommend a dose reduction for NPH insulin on the evening before surgery.


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