Healthwatch 16: Surgery Preparations Improving Recovery

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GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- Geisinger Medical Center is changing the way it handles pre-and post-operation preparations for patients undergoing surgery.

The updated policy is system-wide and officials think it will significantly improve how fast surgery patients can heal and get back to their lives.

Kristine McHale, 46, was out celebrating St. Patrick's Day with her husband this March when something strange happened.

"I was mumbling, incoherent, my eyes rolling back into my head and he couldn't understand anything I was saying," she recalled.

Doctors later confirmed Kristine had an aneurysm on her brain.

"When I first heard about it, I was like, 'what do you mean an aneurysm?' I thought there'd be signs, you know?"

She underwent surgery in September.

A neurosurgeon clipped the aneurysm off from the blood supply, and all went as well as expected.

What Kristine didn't expect were her pre-surgery instructions.

"A week before they had me drinking these shakes," she said.

Kristine is one of about 350 Geisinger patients on whom a new surgery protocol has been tested the past few months a program called proven recovery.

"This thoughtful process of redesigning surgery shows results that are remarkable. We're seeing complication rates drop by 50 percent," said neurosurgeon Dr. Neil Martin, Geisinger's chief quality officer.

It used to be before surgery, patients were given general instructions not to eat or drink anything past midnight.

Now, at all Geisinger locations and for all surgeries, they'll be given a bag.

"That includes instructions, a breathing machine to exercise lungs which helps them recover from anesthesia, nutritional supplements to boost their immune system which make them more resistant to infection, and a drink for two hours before surgery, which used to be heresy," said Dr. Martin.

The idea is to make sure patients go into surgery well-nourished and hydrated.

Another big part of proven recovery is drastically reducing the use of opioid medication, which officials hope will mean fewer cases of addiction.

Kristine expected to be hospitalized for weeks and thinks proven recovery is a big part of why she wasn't.

"I had the surgery on a Monday. I was home Wednesday night."

Patients left the hospital two days earlier -- better for the patient but also far less expensive, accounting for nearly $1.5 million in cost savings.

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