INTRODUCTION: Enhanced recovery after surgery pathways designed to optimize postoperative care have become increasingly popular across multiple surgical specialties with proven benefits. In this retrospective cohort study, we present a comparative evaluation of the impact of protocol-based postoperative care on free autologous breast reconstruction patients.METHODS: With institutional review board approval, we performed a chart review of patients who underwent breast reconstruction with free autologous tissue transfer by a single surgeon from 2006 to 2017. Patients were managed according to a postoperative protocol since 2006 that initially called for discharge home on postoperative day (POD) 4 for unilateral cases and POD 5 for bilateral cases. In May 2015, the protocol was revised to discharge home on POD 3 for all cases. Patients who underwent reconstruction before (2006 to April 2015) and after (May 2015 to 2017) the change in postoperative protocol were compared.RESULTS: A total of 432 patients (647 breasts) underwent free autologous breast reconstruction during the study period. Flaps were predominantly muscle-sparing transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (56.3%) or deep inferior epigastric perforator (30.3%) flaps. Average patient age was 51.6 years (range, 29.7-80.3 years). Unilateral reconstructions were performed for 167 patients before and 50 patients after the protocol change; average hospital length of stay (LOS) was 4.5 and 3.4 days, respectively (P < 0.001). Bilateral reconstructions were performed for 153 patients before and 62 patients after the protocol change; average hospital LOS was 5.1 and 3.5 days, respectively (P < 0.001). There was no significant increase in patients with major or minor complications.CONCLUSIONS: Revising our postoperative protocol to reduce expected LOS was associated with an overall faster time to discharge without negative consequences in patients who underwent unilateral and bilateral free autologous breast reconstruction. Use of protocols to guide behavior not only can improve the patient experience by promoting a quicker return home, but may also have the added benefit of decreasing healthcare expenditures through reduced inpatient utilization.
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