From the Journals

Preop physiotherapy training reduces risk of postop pulmonary complications



A single 30-minute coaching session with a physiotherapist within 6 weeks of major upper abdominal surgery significantly reduced postoperative pulmonary complications (PPC), according to the results of a prospective trial.

Ianthe Boden and her colleagues recruited 441 eligible adults scheduled for elective major upper abdominal surgery to participate in the prospective, multicenter, double-blinded, controlled superiority study to assess whether PPC outcomes were affected by preoperative physiotherapy. Consecutive participants were obtained from outpatient preadmission assessment clinics during June 2013 to August 2015; they were assigned randomly in a 1:1 ratio to the control (219) or intervention (222) groups. The median patient age was 68 years for the control and 63 for the intervention group, and each group was composed of 31% women.

As a component of accepted standard care, all participants in the trial were provided a booklet with written and pictorial information on occurrence of PPCs, along with prevention strategies that consisted of exercises involving early ambulation and prescribed breathing, according to Ms. Boden of Launceston (Tasmania) General Hospital, Australia, and her colleagues.

Immediately after receiving the booklets, however, participants in the intervention group were also given an added 30-minute education and training session by preoperative physiotherapists. This instruction covered factors contributing to PPC occurrence, strategies to help prevention it, and three coached repetitions of breathing exercises. Emphasis was placed on initiating prescribed breathing exercises upon regaining postoperative consciousness and continuing them every hour until the patients were fully ambulatory.

The primary outcome was evaluated by masked assessors using the Melbourne group score criteria to determine PPC incidence within 14 postoperative days or by the time of hospital discharge, whichever was sooner. Nine participants, 4 from the intervention and 5 from the control group, withdrew from the study. Of the total remaining 432 participants, 85 (20%) had a documented PPC incident, including hospital acquired pneumonia, within the specified postoperative time frame, as reported in the BMJ.

Results showed that the physiotherapy group had significantly fewer PPC occurrences (27/218, 12%) than did the control group (58/214, 27%). The calculated absolute risk reduction was 15% (P less than .001). Adjustment for three of the prespecified covariates (age, respiratory comorbidity, and surgical procedure) showed PPC incidence remained halved (hazard ratio, 0.48; P = .001) for the intervention group with a number needed to treat of 7 (95% confidence interval, 5-14).

Secondary outcomes included incidence of hospital acquired pneumonia, hospital utilization, mobility, patient reported complications at 6 weeks, and mortality rates in hospital, at 6 weeks, and at 12 months. For secondary outcomes in the adjusted analysis, incidences of pneumonia were halved in the physiotherapy intervention group with a number needed to treat of 9 (95% CI, 6-21). No significant differences in secondary outcomes were detected between the control and treatment groups.

Sensitivity analysis that removed participants who had lower abdominal and laparoscopic surgery strengthened both primary and secondary outcome results to favor the preoperative physiotherapy intervention for reducing PPC. The researchers found that, in an adjusted analysis of subgroup effects, there was a gradient in reduction of PPCs according to surgical category.

Shorter lengths hospital stay and lower all-cause 12-month mortality were also associated with more experienced physiotherapists providing the preoperative education and training.

Ms. Boden and her colleagues proposed that the timing for patients to begin breathing exercises after major open upper abdominal surgery could be critical in reducing PPC incidence. Initiating breathing exercises within the first 24 hours after surgery – in contrast to the common practice of waiting 1-2 days to begin postoperative physiotherapy – could prevent general anesthesia-associated mild atelectasis from developing into severe atelectasis and PPCs.

The researchers concluded that β€œin a general population of patients listed for elective upper abdominal surgery, a 30-minute preoperative physiotherapy session provided within existing hospital multidisciplinary preadmission clinics halves the incidence of PPCs and specifically hospital acquired pneumonia. Further research is required to investigate benefits to mortality and length of stay.”

The authors reported that they received grants from the Clifford Craig Foundation; the University of Tasmania (Hobart), Australia; and the Waitemata District Health Board in Auckland, New Zealand.

SOURCE: Boden I et al. BMJ. 2018. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5916.

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