Effectiveness of Preoperative Antibiotics in Preventing Surgical Site Infection After Common Soft Tissue Procedures of the Hand

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2018 Apr;476(4):664-673. doi: 10.1007/s11999.0000000000000073.


Background: Antibiotic prophylaxis is a common but controversial practice for clean soft tissue procedures of the hand, such as carpal tunnel release or trigger finger release. Previous studies report no substantial reduction in the risk of surgical site infection (SSI) after antibiotic prophylaxis, yet are limited in power by low sample sizes and low overall rates of postoperative infection.

Questions/purposes: Is there evidence that antibiotic prophylaxis decreases the risk of SSI after soft tissue hand surgery when using propensity score matching to control for potential confounding variables such as demographics, procedure type, medication use, existing comorbidities, and postoperative events?

Methods: This retrospective analysis used the Truven Health MarketScan databases, large, multistate commercial insurance claims databases corresponding to inpatient and outpatient services and outpatient drug claims made between January 2007 and December 2014. The database includes records for patients enrolled in health insurance plans from self-insured employers and other private payers. Current Procedural Terminology codes were used to identify patients who underwent carpal tunnel release, trigger finger release, ganglion and retinacular cyst excision, de Quervain's release, or soft tissue mass excision, and to assign patients to one of two cohorts based on whether they had received preoperative antibiotic prophylaxis. We identified 943,741 patients, of whom 426,755 (45%) were excluded after meeting one or more exclusion criteria: 357,500 (38%) did not have 12 months of consecutive insurance enrollment before surgery or 1 month of enrollment after surgery; 60,693 (6%) had concomitant bony, implant, or incision and drainage or débridement procedures; and 94,141 (10%) did not have complete data. In all, our initial cohort consisted of 516,986 patients, among whom 58,201 (11%) received antibiotic prophylaxis. Propensity scores were calculated and used to create cohorts matched on potential risk factors for SSI, including age, procedure type, recent use of steroids and immunosuppressive agents, diabetes, HIV/AIDs, tobacco use, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, alcohol abuse, malnutrition, history of prior SSI, and local procedure volume. Multivariable logistic regression before and after propensity score matching was used to test whether antibiotic prophylaxis was associated with a decrease in the risk of SSI within 30 days after surgery.

Results: After controlling for patient demographics, hand procedure type, medication use, existing comorbidities (eg, diabetes, HIV/AIDs, tobacco use, obesity), and postoperative events through propensity score matching, we found that the risk of postoperative SSI was no different between patients who had received antibiotic prophylaxis and those who had not (odds ratio, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.93-1.13; p = 0.585).

Conclusions: Antibiotic prophylaxis for common soft tissue procedures of the hand is not associated with reduction in postoperative infection risk. While our analysis cannot account for factors that are not captured in the billing process, this study nevertheless provides strong evidence against unnecessary use of antibiotics before these procedures, especially given the difficulty of conducting a randomized prospective study with a sample size large enough to detect the effect of prophylaxis on the low baseline risk of infection.

Level of evidence: Level III, therapeutic study.

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Claims, Healthcare
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis / adverse effects
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis / methods*
  • Antimicrobial Stewardship
  • Data Mining
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Hand / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surgical Wound Infection / diagnosis
  • Surgical Wound Infection / microbiology
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Unnecessary Procedures


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents