Ambulation Orderlies and Recovery After Cardiac Surgery: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

J Clin Exerc Physiol. 2017 Sep;6(3):42-49. doi: 10.31189/2165-6193-6.3.42.


Background: One potential strategy to increasing physical activity after surgery is to utilize an ambulation orderly (AO), a dedicated employee whose assures frequent patient walking. However, the impact of an AO on physical and functional recovery from surgery is unknown.

Methods: We randomized post-operative cardiac surgical patients to receive either the AO or usual care. We measured average daily step count, changes in 6-minute walk test (6MWT) distance, and changes in functional independence (Barthel Index.) Our primary goal was to test protocols, measure variability in activity, and establish effect sizes.

Results: Thirty-six patients were randomized (18 per group, 45% bypass surgery). Overall, patients exhibited significant recovery of physical function from baseline to discharge in the 6MWT (from 83 to 172 meters, p < 0.001) and showed improvement in independent function (Barthel Index, 67 to 87, p <0.001). Moreover, each additional barrier to ambulation (supplemental oxygen, intravenous poles/fluid, walkers, urinary catheters, and chest tubes) reduced average daily step count by 330 steps/barrier, p = 0.04. However, the AO intervention resulted in only a small difference in average daily step counts (2718 vs. 2541 steps/day, Cohen's d = 0.16, 608 patients needed for larger trial), which we attributed to several trial factors that likely weakened the AO intervention.

Conclusions: In this pilot study, we observed significant in-hospital physical and functional recovery from surgery, but the addition of an AO made only marginal differences in daily step counts. Future studies should consider stepped-wedge or cluster trial designs to increase intervention effectiveness.

Clinical trials registration: unique identifier: NCT02375282.

Keywords: Ambulation Orderly; Inpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation; Recovery; Surgery.

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