Active clearance of chest tubes is associated with reduced postoperative complications and costs after cardiac surgery: a propensity matched analysis

J Cardiothorac Surg. 2019 Nov 8;14(1):192. doi: 10.1186/s13019-019-0999-3.


Background: Chest tubes are routinely used to evacuate shed mediastinal blood in the critical care setting in the early hours after heart surgery. Inadequate evacuation of shed mediastinal blood due to chest tube clogging may result in retained blood around the heart and lungs after cardiac surgery. The objective of this study was to compare if active chest tube clearance reduces the incidence of retained blood complications and associated hospital resource utilization after cardiac surgery.

Methods: Propensity matched analysis of 697 consecutive patients who underwent cardiac surgery at a single center. 302 patients served as a baseline control (Phase 0), 58 patients in a training and compliance verification period (Phase 1) and 337 were treated prospectively using active tube clearance (Phase 2). The need to drain retained blood, pleural effusions, postoperative atrial fibrillation, ICU resource utilization and hospital costs were assessed.

Results: Propensity matched patients in Phase 2 had a reduced need for drainage procedures for pleural effusions (22% vs. 8.1%, p < 0.001) and reduced postoperative atrial fibrillation (37 to 25%, P = 0.011). This corresponded with fewer hours in the ICU (43.5 [24-79] vs 30 [24-49], p = < 0.001), reduced median postoperative length of stay (6 [4-8] vs 5 [4-6.25], p < 0.001) median costs reduced by $1831.45 (- 3580.52;82.38, p = 0.04) and the mean costs reduced by an average of $2696 (- 6027.59;880.93, 0.116).

Conclusions: This evidence supports the concept that efforts to actively maintain chest tube patency in early recovery is useful in improving outcomes and reducing resource utilization and costs after cardiac surgery.

Trial registration:, NCT02145858, Registered: May 23, 2014.

Keywords: Cardiac surgery; Chest tube; Costs; Critical care; Pleural effusion; Postoperative atrial fibrillation.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Chest Tubes*
  • Drainage / economics
  • Drainage / instrumentation
  • Drainage / methods*
  • Female
  • Hospital Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Hampshire
  • Postoperative Complications / economics
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Propensity Score
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data