Changing Practice and Improving Care Using a Low-Risk Tracheotomy Clinical Pathway

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Tracheotomy is a common procedure. Postoperative care is usually managed by nonexpert clinicians. Prolonged decannulation is associated with a high incidence of complications. At present, no clinical protocol exists to guide clinicians through decannulation. To address this deficiency, we developed a low-risk tracheotomy clinical pathway.


To determine the effect of our low-risk tracheotomy clinical pathway on the time to decannulation and to determine its safety and sustainability by assessing the incidence of adverse events.


Our study combined retrospective and prospective cohorts from July 1, 2008, through January 31, 2012. Low-risk adult patients undergoing tracheotomy at a tertiary care hospital constituted the study population. A baseline cohort of 26 patients underwent retrospective assessment. After development of the pathway, a pilot group of 34 consecutive patients underwent evaluation; of these, 13 were ineligible because of high-risk factors, which included potential upper airway obstruction, unfavorable neck anatomy, or medical factors such as coagulopathy. To assess the sustainability of the pathway, a follow-up cohort underwent assessment. Of 107 consecutive patients, 39 met the low-risk criteria. Length of follow-up was 30 days after decannulation.


The low-risk tracheotomy clinical pathway, which provides a stepwise approach to decannulation.


Total time to decannulation (in days). We hypothesized that the pathway would reduce the total time to decannulation. The secondary outcome constituted adverse events. All hypotheses were formulated before data collection.


Mean (SD) total time to decannulation in the baseline cohort was 15.50 (12.08) days. After implementation of the pathway in the pilot cohort, mean (SD) total time to decannulation decreased to 5.74 (2.79) days (P < .001). In the follow-up cohort, mean (SD) total time to decannulation was 8.13 (7.09) days (P = .003). We found no association between adverse events and use of the pathway.


Our low-risk tracheotomy clinical pathway is associated with a sustainable decrease in total time to decannulation without any associated increase in adverse events. We therefore believe that this pathway is a safe and effective tool to guide clinicians in the management of tracheotomy.

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