Current Techniques for Postoperative Monitoring of Microvascular Free Flaps

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Free tissue transfer (FTT) is used in patients with complicated reconstructive needs; it can provide stable wound coverage, improved aesthetic appearance, and restore functional deficits. Despite the high success rates of free flaps, vascular occlusion is a significant risk leading to flap failure. Many studies have demonstrated that the salvage rate for flaps is inversely related to the time between onset of a vascular problem and its surgical correction. As a result, ongoing postoperative monitoring of free flaps for adequate perfusion is imperative to allow timely and accurate diagnosis of vascular compromise. Close monitoring and prompt notification of the physician if vascular compromise occurs are typically undertaken by first-line nurses. We conducted an integrative literature to identify and evaluate commonly used techniques for monitoring vascular free flaps during the postoperative period. We searched PubMed and Science Direct electronic databases, using the key words: “free-flap” and “monitoring.” This article discusses commonly monitoring modalities, along with their advantages and limitations. Whereas large academic institutions may have an experienced nursing staff specifically trained in effective methods for monitoring free flap patients, this situation may not exist in all hospitals where free flap surgeries are performed. We describe techniques that allow easy and timely detection of flap compromise by nursing staff while reducing interuser variability.

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