SAFER surgery: Donna Gilmour empowers patients with tools for safer recovery
Patient safety is top priority for Donna Gilmour, a gynecologic surgeon at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, NS. She is spearheading a national study called SAFER – 'Studying Adverse events From Elective surgery Research' – to provide women with knowledge that will help them have a safe and healthy recovery after gynecologic surgery.
"With elective surgery, patients are choosing to have an operation to improve their quality of life," says Donna. "The last thing you want is a surgery complication that leaves them with a lower quality of life than before they made that decision."
That's why Donna has pulled together a team of gynecologic surgeons and information specialists to create and test the SAFER website. This website provides women with information about potential complications of hysterectomy and symptoms that should alert them to seek medical attention.
"We wanted to provide women with a tool they could use following surgery, not only to monitor for potential problems but to empower them to take the best possible care of themselves," says Donna, noting that the website also includes daily tips for better recovery.
Major complications of surgery include blood clots in the legs that can travel to the lungs organ injury, pneumonia and sepsis, a severe infection. While such dangerous complications are rare, wound infections and other uncomfortable problems are common.
The first two phases of the SAFER study, conducted in Halifax and Ottawa, focused on women recovering from abdominal hysterectomy. Participants said they relied on the information for reassurance and advice. A surprisingly large number experienced minor complications and said the website guided them to seek prompt medical attention.
The SAFER team used these participants' input to improve the website. They have also expanded the content to include laparoscopic and vaginal hysterectomy modules. The team is putting plans in place to test all three modules at hospitals across Canada.
Donna sees an even broader future for the SAFER approach: "Gynecologic procedures are the starting point, but we would like to partner with other surgeons to help patients recovering from a wide range of surgeries."
To date, the SAFER project has received funding from the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), the IWK Research Fund, the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
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