Evaluation of routinely reported surgical site infections against microbiological culture results: a tool to identify patient groups where diagnosis and treatment may be improved

BMC Infect Dis. 2009 Nov 10:9:176. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-9-176.


Background: Surgeons may improve their decision making by assessing the extent to which their initial clinical diagnosis of a surgical site infection (SSI) was supported by culture results. Aim of the present study was to evaluate routinely reported SSI by surgeons against microbiological culture results, to identify patient groups with lower agreement where decision making may be improved.

Methods: 701 admissions with SSI were reported by surgeons in a university medical centre in the period 1997-2005, which were retrospectively checked for microbiological culture results. Reporting a SSI was conditional on treatment being given (e.g. antibiotics) and was classified by severity. To identify specific patient groups, patients were classified according to the surgery group of the first operation during admission (e.g. trauma).

Results: Of all reported SSI, 523 (74.6%) had a positive culture result, 102 (14.6%) a negative culture result and 76 (10.8%) were classified as unknown culture result (due to no culture taken). Given a known culture result, reported SSI with positive culture results less often concerned trauma patients (16% versus 26%, X2 = 4.99 p = 0.03) and less severe SSI (49% versus 85%, X2 = 10.11 p < 0.01) suggesting that a more conservative approach may be warranted in these patients. The trauma surgeons themselves perceived to have become too liberal in administering antibiotics (and reporting SSI).

Conclusion: Routine reporting of SSI was mostly supported by culture results. However, this support was less often found in trauma patients and less severe SSI, thereby giving surgeons feedback that diagnosis and treatment may be improved in these cases.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross Infection / diagnosis
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surgical Wound Infection / diagnosis
  • Surgical Wound Infection / epidemiology*