Evaluation of a new chest tube removal protocol using digital air leak monitoring after lobectomy: a prospective randomised trial

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2010 Jan;37(1):56-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2009.05.006. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


Background: The objective of this randomised trial was to assess the effectiveness of a new fast-track chest tube removal protocol taking advantage of digital monitoring of air leak compared to a traditional protocol using visual and subjective assessment of air leak (bubbles).

Methods: One hundred and sixty-six patients submitted to pulmonary lobectomy for lung cancer were randomised in two groups with different chest tube removal protocols: (1) in the new protocol, chest tube was removed based on digitally recorded measurements of air leak flow; (2) in the traditional protocol, the chest tube removal was based on an instantaneous assessment of air leak during daily rounds. The two groups were compared in terms of chest tube duration, hospital stay and costs.

Results: The two groups were well matched for several preoperative and operative variables. Compared to the traditional protocol, the new digital recording protocol showed mean reductions in chest tube duration (p=0.0007), hospital stay (p=0.007) of 0.9 day, and a mean cost saving of euro 476 per patient (p=0.008). In the new chest tube removal protocol, 51% of patients had their chest tube removed by the second postoperative day versus only 12% of those in the traditional protocol.

Conclusions: The application of a chest tube removal protocol using a digital drainage unit featuring a continuous recording of air leak was safe and cost effective. Although future studies are warranted to confirm these results in other settings, the use of this new protocol is now routinely applied in our practice.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chest Tubes*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Device Removal / methods
  • Female
  • Hospital Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Pneumonectomy* / adverse effects
  • Pneumonectomy* / economics
  • Pneumothorax / diagnosis*
  • Pneumothorax / economics
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Postoperative Care / economics
  • Postoperative Care / methods*
  • Postoperative Period
  • Prospective Studies