A systematic review of early versus delayed wound closure in patients with open fractures requiring flap coverage
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BACKGROUND: Wound management in open fractures remains an area of controversy. Although numerous protocols for soft tissue coverage and fracture fixation have been proposed, problems with infection, delayed healing, and prolonged disability have remained. The purpose of this systematic review was to critically examine the timing of flap coverage in open fractures and its impact on bone union, infections, complication rates, and duration of hospital stay. METHODS: We comprehensively searched the literature for relevant studies across CINAHL, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and the Cochrane databases. The Orthopaedic Trauma Association and Canadian Orthopedic Association proceedings were also searched. Two independent reviewers screened and assessed abstracts. Articles were selected using specific inclusion criteria and were categorized as "early," "intermediate," or "late" based on their timing of flap coverage. Methodological quality of included studies was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale for Cohort Studies. RESULTS: Of 83 potentially eligible studies, 20 articles were included in the final analysis (agreement kappa = 0.83). Of these, eight studies evaluated "early" flap coverage, nine studies evaluated "intermediate" flap coverage, and nine studies evaluated "late" flap coverage. Early flap coverage was associated with lower infection rates (p < 0.0001) and lower complications (p = 0.15). CONCLUSIONS: The results of this systematic review (level III evidence) suggest that any delay in flap coverage may provide suboptimal bone healing, infection, and complication rates. It is recommended that methodologically sound randomized controlled trials be performed comparing "early" flap coverage time points to determine optimal outcomes for bone union, infection, and hospital stay as none exist to date.
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