Outpatient Surgery : Answering questions about warming and lawsuits

Of all the questions surrounding patient warming, the most burning is this: Do forced-air warmers circulate contaminants that can cause wound infections, as a spate of recent lawsuits alleges? Read on as we tackle this and other hot topics surrounding your quest to maintain normothermia.

1. Does forced-air warming cause SSIs?
Of the many proven benefits of maintaining normothermia, perhaps the greatest is that it staves off surgical wound infections. But what if the very act of forced-air warming causes SSIs? 

You've no doubt heard the claims or seen the ads from law firms trolling for clients: Besides blowing hot air, forced-air warming units stir up the germs from the floor and cause them to go airborne. The jetstream of germs, the notion goes, rises alongside the table and settles over the surface of knee or hip implants in the sterile field. The germs can take root in the wounds and cause debilitating infections, especially in patients undergoing deep joint surgery. Not everyone is buying this (Bunch of) Hot Air Theory.

"Commercially driven junk science that has no basis in reality whatsoever," says an observer.

3M's lawyers say no reputable study has proven that forced-air warmers contaminate the air when they vent their waste heat. Just the opposite is true, they say. Decades of research and clinical experience show that using forced-air to maintain normal body temperature helps reduce the risk of infections and improves surgical outcomes.

"Forced air is highly effective, easy to use, inexpensive and remarkably safe," says anesthesiologist Daniel Sessler, MD, who has researched forced-air warming extensively as chair of the department of outcomes research at the Cleveland Clinic.

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