Not so long ago, patients needing a total hip or knee replacement would be away from home anywhere from a week to 10 days – or even longer. Not any more.
Back in the day, all that recovery time would have been split between the hospital (in an acute care setting) and a rehab facility (whether located in the hospital or in an extended care facility). Many factors contributed to this need for recovery and patient care after surgery. However, over the past few years, I have seen this change for the better.
Today, on average, patients are away from home after a total joint replacement for only three days. As a doctor, I am glad to be able to send my patients home on that third hospital day.
Is three days enough time in the hospital? You might think sending a surgical patient home early would increase the risk of post-op problems as well as re-admission to the hospital for post-operative complications.
While this may seem intuitive, many studies support less time in the hospital as a benefit for patients. I’ve also seen in my 20 years of practice that patients who go home earlier not only do better and progress through the post-op period faster, but they also have a lower post-operative complication rate.
Small steps, big changes
What has changed to allow people to return home so quickly? As in so many innovations, it is not one specific change, but a few important, varied advances that work together to provide this dramatic benefit.
I’ve witnessed major changes in medical, surgical and therapeutic techniques involved in a patient’s care from the morning of admission all the way to the discharge day.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Newer surgical techniques that result in smaller incisions
- Increased use of different anesthetic methods used together that target the part of the body being repaired. This lowers the amount of overall sedation that a patient needs
- A more aggressive, earlier start to physical therapy in the hospital
- More nursing care directly involved in helping a patient move around or begin to walk in the immediate, post-op period
Together, these efforts have resulted in faster recuperation for the total joint patient.