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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2001 Aug;122(2):318-24.

Fast-tracking pulmonary resections.

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Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and the Department of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 35294, USA.



We streamlined our care after pulmonary resection for quality and cost-effectiveness.


A single surgeon performed 500 consecutive pulmonary resections through a thoracotomy over a 2(3/4)-year period in a university setting. Patients were extubated in the operating room and sent directly to their hospital room. Chest tubes were placed to water seal and removed on postoperative day 2 if there was no air leak and drainage was less then 400 mL/d. Epidural catheters were used and removed by postoperative day 2. The plan for each day and discharge on postoperative day 3 or 4 was reviewed with the patients and families daily during rounds. The patient went home the day the last chest tube was removed. Persistent air leaks were treated with Heimlich valves.


There were 500 patients (338 men), with a median age of 58 years (range, 3-87 years). Of these patients, 293 had pre-existing conditions. Seventy-three (15%) patients had been denied operations by at least one other surgeon. Four hundred nineteen (84%) patients had successful placement of a functioning preoperative epidural catheter. Pneumonectomy was performed in 32 (6%) patients, segmentectomy was performed in 16 (3%) patients, and lobectomy, sleeve lobectomy, and/or bilobectomy was performed in 194 (39%) patients. Nonanatomic resections were performed for metastasectomy. This included a single wedge resection in 161 (32%) patients and multiple wedge resections in 97 (19%) patients. A total of 482 (96%) patients were extubated in the operating room, and 380 (76%) patients were sent to their hospital room. The remaining 120 patients went to the intensive care unit for a median of 1 day (range, 1-41 days). Complications occurred in 107 (21%) patients, and operative mortality was 2.0%. Median day of discharge was postoperative day 4 (range, 2-119 days). A total of 327 (65%) patients left the hospital on postoperative day 4 or sooner. By survey, 97% of patients had excellent or good satisfaction with their care at hospital discharge, and 91% were extremely happy or satisfied at the 2-week follow-up contact.


Most patients who undergo elective pulmonary resection can be extubated immediately after the operation, go directly to their room and avoid the intensive care unit, be discharged on postoperative day 3 or 4, and have minimal morbidity and mortality with high satisfaction both at discharge and at the 2-week follow-up contact. Techniques that seem to accomplish this include the following: the use of a water seal, removal of epidural catheters on postoperative day 2, early chest tube management, treatment of persistent air leaks with Heimlich valves, and daily reinforcement of the planned events for each day, as well as on the date of discharge with the patients and their families.

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