Post-discharge surgical wound infection surveillance is an important part of many infection control programs. It is frequently undertaken by patient self-assessment, prompted either by a telephone or postal questionnaire. To assess the reliability of this method, 290 patients were followed for six weeks postoperatively. Their wounds were photographed and also covertly assessed for signs of infection by two experienced infection control nurses (ICNs). Patients also responded to a postal questionnaire seeking evidence of infection at both week four and week six post-surgery. Correlation between the patient's assessment of their wound and the ICNs diagnosis was poor (r = 0.37) with a low positive predictive value (28.7%), although negative predictive value was high (98.2%). Assessment of photos for signs of infection by two experienced clinicians also correlated poorly with the ICNs diagnosis of infection (r = 0.54). The patient's recall of prescription of an antibiotic by their general practitioner (GP) for wound infection during the postoperative period correlated best with the ICNs diagnosis (r = 0.76). This latter measure, particularly when confirmed by the GP in those patients reporting an infection, appears to provide the most valid and resource efficient marker of post-discharge surgical wound infection.
Copyright 2002 The Hospital Infection Society