As Fleischman et al. observe in the January 17, 2018 edition of The Journal, “there is a prevailing belief that patients living alone cannot be safely discharged directly home after total joint arthroplasty [TJA].” Not so, according to results of their Level II prospective cohort study.
The authors reviewed outcomes among a cohort of 769 patients undergoing lower-extremity arthroplasty who were discharged home, 138 of whom were living alone. While patients living alone more commonly stayed an additional night in the hospital and utilized more home-health services than patients living with others, there were no between-group differences in 90-day complication rates or unplanned clinical events, including readmissions.
These findings are reassuring, but all patients discharged home after a lower-limb arthroplasty need some support with meal preparation, personal hygiene, and other activities of daily living for the first 10 to 14 days. Clinicians should therefore adequately assess the local support system for each patient living alone in terms of family, neighbors, or friends to be sure the patient will be safe if discharged home. This crucial determination is a team exercise involving nursing, the surgeon, physical and occupational therapists, and a social worker. Fleischman et al. implicitly credit the “nurse navigator” program at their institution (Rothman Institute) with coordinating this team effort.
Investigation into these issues is very important as the orthopaedic community works to lower the costs of arthroplasty care while improving patient safety and satisfaction. If the appropriate support is in place, patients and clinicians alike would prefer that patients sleep in their own beds after discharge from joint replacement surgery.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD