J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2022 Jun 17:S1748-6815(22)00323-0. doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2022.06.007. Online ahead of print.
Acute upper limb infections represent a large proportion of on-call referrals and emergency theatre time in plastic surgery. To enable us to maintain effective service provision despite reallocation of hospital resources as a result of COVID-19, and to minimise patient exposure in a hospital setting during the pandemic, we introduced a walk-in clinic and dedicated local anaesthetic (LA) operating theatre for these infections. In this work, we sought to analyse our service changes and resulting patient outcomes. Using electronic records, data from patients presenting with upper extremity infections was collected before the pandemic from 1st January to 30th March 2020, then for a period of three months from 30th March until 30th June 2020, after our changes were implemented. Seventy-two patients were included before 30th March 2020, and 49 patients after. Prior to our changes, most patients underwent surgery (n = 58, 80.6%), requiring overnight admission (n = 64, 88.9%), following mainly general anaesthetic procedures (n = 56, 96.6%). After our service changes, a similar percentage of patients were treated operatively (n = 41, 83.7%), but these procedures mostly utilised LA (n = 37, 90.2%) in the outpatient setting (n = 25, 51.0%). Despite this shift in management approach, no statistically significant difference in readmission rates was calculated between the two groups (p = 0.556) and post-operative complications were fewer in absolute terms. Our results suggest that in many instances, these infections can be managed in an outpatient setting without the need for inpatient care. Selective admission with strict follow-up of patients may be feasible, improving patient experience and reducing resource burden.