Your practice manager comes to you to discuss ways that you can reduce expenses. He asks whether the practice could reduce the amount of money spent on gloves for procedures. How do you reply?
A decision involving a small difference, spread over a larger number of events, can have a sizable effect. An example is whether to use sterile vs nonsterile gloves for minor procedures. The cost difference between a box of sterile gloves and a box of nonsterile gloves is relatively small, and certainly worth the difference if the more expensive sterile gloves reduce the number of surgical site infections (SSIs).
However, if there is no difference in the number of SSIs, there may be no value to the extra cost, which, given the number of such procedures, becomes a large unnecessary expense. The choice to use sterile gloves often stems from habit, product availability, or the perceived benefit of fewer SSIs.2 While some evidence exists comparing glove choice, there is wide variability in physicians’ choice of gloves.3-5 This large systematic review compared rates of SSIs using sterile vs nonsterile gloves.
RCTs/observational studies find sterile no better than nonsterile gloves
This systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational (prospective or retrospective) studies compared infection rates using sterile vs nonsterile gloves in 11,071 unique patients undergoing cutaneous surgery, including Mohs microsurgery or outpatient dental procedures. The methods used in the review followed the Cochrane collaboration guidelines.6 The inclusion criteria were that the studies had to be either RCTs or observational studies. Patients included in each study underwent outpatient cutaneous or mucosal surgical procedures, including laceration repair, standard excisions, Mohs micrographic surgery, or tooth extractions. In addition to glove type, documentation of postoperative SSI was necessary for inclusion.
Methodology. The authors of the analysis reviewed a total of 512 publications for inclusion; of these, 14 met the inclusion criteria. One study was later removed due to incomplete data, leaving a total of 13 trials for the analysis. Of the 11,071 patients included in the final analysis, 1360 patients were randomly assigned to treatment with sterile gloves, while 1381 patients were assigned to treatment with nonsterile gloves as the intervention in a clinical trial. The remaining patients participated in either prospective or retrospective observational trials; 4680 patients were treated with sterile gloves, and 3650 patients were treated with nonsterile gloves. Heterogeneity was low for the included studies. Of note, the researchers performed a subgroup analysis on 9 total studies (4 RCTs and 5 observational studies) involving cutaneous surgeries only. These represented procedures most likely performed in the primary care setting.
The primary outcome of this review was postoperative wound infection. The results did not show any difference in SSIs between sterile vs nonsterile gloves in all trials (2% vs 2.1%; relative risk [RR]=1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.81-1.39). There was also no difference in infection rates in the subgroup analysis of 9 trials limited to cutaneous surgery (2.2% vs 2.2%, respectively; RR=1.02; 95% CI, 0.78-1.34) or when the analysis was limited to only RCTs.
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