Background: Wound infections are a common complication of surgery that add significantly to the morbidity of patients and costs of treatment. The global trend towards reducing length of hospital stay post-surgery and the increase in day case surgery means that surgical site infections (SSI) will increasingly occur after hospital discharge. Surveillance of SSIs is important because rates of SSI are viewed as a measure of hospital performance, however accurate detection of SSIs post-hospital discharge is not straightforward.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review of methods of post discharge surveillance for surgical wound infection and undertook a national audit of methods of post-discharge surveillance for surgical site infection currently used within United Kingdom NHS Trusts.
Results: Seven reports of six comparative studies which examined the validity of post-discharge surveillance methods were located; these involved different comparisons and some had methodological limitations, making it difficult to identify an optimal method. Several studies evaluated automated screening of electronic records and found this to be a useful strategy for the identification of SSIs that occurred post discharge. The audit identified a wide range of relevant post-discharge surveillance programmes in England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland; however, these programmes used varying approaches for which there is little supporting evidence of validity and/or reliability.
Conclusion: In order to establish robust methods of surveillance for those surgical site infections that occur post discharge, there is a need to develop a method of case ascertainment that is valid and reliable post discharge. Existing research has not identified a valid and reliable method. A standardised definition of wound infection (e.g. that of the Centres for Disease Control) should be used as a basis for developing a feasible, valid and reliable approach to defining post discharge SSI. At a local level, the method used to ascertain post discharge SSI will depend upon the purpose of the surveillance, the nature of available routine data and the resources available.