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Medical Intel

Jul 30, 2019

One of the main concerns for surgical patients is how much pain they will experience after their procedure.  Dr. Kenneth Fan discusses the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, which not only reduces pain after surgery, but also decreases the use of opioids. 



Intro: MedStar Washington Hospital Center presents Medical Intel where our healthcare team shares health and wellness insights and gives you the inside story on advances in medicine.

Host: We’re speaking with Dr. Ken Fan, a plastic surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Fan.

Dr. Fan: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Host: Today we’re discussing ways to reduce pain after various types of plastic surgery. Dr. Fan, pain has to be one of the most common fears patients have prior to plastic surgery. Can you explain how much pain patients can expect from surgery?

Dr. Fan: Yes. With the enhanced recovery after surgery, multimodality, multidisciplinary protocol, the most important thing is to set the expectation of pain. So, the first part of the series of treatments is the pre-operative assessment of the patient. So, we go through a detailed discussion with how the patient has recovered in previous surgeries and how they tolerate pain. I discuss with them how they can see themselves recover from this particular surgery. This discussion is very important because not all patients perceive pain the same way and not all surgeries have the same amount of pain.

Host: How long does recovery normally take after plastic surgery?

Dr. Fan: Recovery varies, based on the type of procedure. Some procedures are out-patient, meaning that patients are discharged and go home. Some procedures require a 3 to 4-day in-patient stay. The benefit of using this ERAS multimodal analgesia protocol is that no matter how long the recovery, it’s shortened - patients return back to base-line functioning sooner and have decreased narcotic usage.

Host: What kind of treatments do you provide patients to help them deal with pain or discomfort after plastic surgery?

Dr. Fan: So, we use a combination of pre-operative non-narcotic medication that decreases the way the nerves fire. So, they don’t fire strongly, and they don’t fire as hard. Intraoperatively we work with our anesthesia colleagues and they provide a lot of medications that decrease nausea and vomiting after surgery and decrease the amount of pain. We also use wide-spread local blocks, meaning we use local anesthesia that also targets the nerves and prevents them from firing. This also decreases pain. After surgery, we usually provide a cocktail of medications that are also non-opioid anesthesia. They also target the way the nerves fire and they subdue everything and decrease the pain levels for patients. And we found with this ERAS protocol after major surgery, patients are only taking 1 to 2 narcotic tabs after surgery. And, this is research that is being published soon.

Host: Is this one way that MedStar Washington Hospital Center is trying to decrease narcotic usage in light of the current opioid epidemic?

Dr. Fan: Absolutely and thank you for asking. Yes, opioid use across America has reached a tipping point to where it’s been declared a health emergency. And this protocol especially addresses narcotic use across the board. With our research we’ve been able to demonstrate that application of this protocol has reduced opioid use significantly. And this is great because patients are not reliant on narcotic usage. This takes them out of the cycle of pain and opioid dependence that we unfortunately have seen as health care providers. And this also has the additional benefit of just returning patients to baseline and making them feel a lot better.

Host: Does pain tolerance vary from person to person? If so, to what extent?

Dr. Fan: Absolutely. I think some patients have higher pain tolerances, some patients have lower pain tolerances. Some patients have had extensive history of opioid use. And therefore, it’s up to us, the provider of the patient, before surgery, to have a discussion and so we can better manage their pain after surgery.

Host: Could you share a story in which a patient received optimal care for their plastic surgery with minimal pain at MedStar Washington Hospital Center?

Dr. Fan: Yes. There’s one patient in particular that comes to mind. This is a patient who has given permission for me to share her story. She previously has had more than six hernia operations. Her most recent one required a prolonged hospital stay, over two weeks, part of which was in the ICU. As you can imagine, she was not excited to come to the hospital after her hernia came back. In fact, she was putting off her surgery since July of 2018 and her hernia, subsequently, got a lot more complicated. But, long story short, because of the collaborations between the general surgeons, the anesthesia providers, and us, the plastic surgeons, we were able to devise a plan that decreased the amount of pain and decreased the amount of surgery that we had to do. She ended up doing great after surgery. She was with this ERAS protocol, was walking postoperative day 1. She said that this was the best she’s ever felt in her 7 previous surgeries and that she was very excited to tell all her friends that MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers this service.

Host: Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Fan.

Dr. Fan: Thank you for having me.

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