Open fractures frequently result in serious complications for patients, including infections, wound healing problems, and failure of fracture healing, many of which necessitate subsequent operations. One of the most important steps in the initial management of open fractures is a thorough wound irrigation and debridement to remove any contaminants. There is, however, currently no consensus regarding the optimal approach to irrigating open fracture wounds during the initial operative procedure. The selection of both the type of irrigating fluid and the pressure of fluid delivery remain controversial. The primary objective of this study is to investigate the effects of irrigation solutions (soap vs. normal saline) and pressure (low vs. high; gravity flow vs. high; low vs. gravity flow) on re-operation within one year among patients with open fractures.
The FLOW study is a multi-center, randomized controlled trial using a 2 × 3 factorial design. Surgeons at clinical sites in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia will recruit 2 280 patients who will be centrally randomized into one of the 6 treatment arms (soap + low pressure; soap + gravity flow pressure; soap + high pressure; saline + low pressure; saline + gravity flow pressure; saline + high pressure). The primary outcome of the study is re-operation to promote wound or bone healing, or to treat an infection. This composite endpoint of re-operation includes a narrow spectrum of patient-important procedures: irrigation and debridement for infected wound, revision and closure for wound dehiscence, wound coverage procedures for infected or necrotic wound, bone grafts or implant exchange procedures for established nonunion in patients with postoperative fracture gaps less than 1 cm, intramedullary nail dynamizations in the operating room, and fasciotomies for compartment syndrome. Patients, outcome adjudicators, and data analysts will be blinded. We will compare rates of re-operation at 12 months across soap vs. saline, low pressure vs. high pressure, gravity flow pressure vs. high pressure, and low pressure vs. gravity flow pressure. We will measure function and quality of life with the Short Form-12 (SF-12) and the EuroQol-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D) at baseline, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months after initial surgical management, and measure patients' illness beliefs with the Somatic Pre-Occupation and Coping (SPOC) questionnaire at 1 and 6 weeks. We will also compare non-operatively managed infections, wound healing, and fracture healing problems at 12 months after initial surgery.
This study represents a major international effort to identify a simple and easily applicable strategy for emergency wound management. The importance of the question and the potential to identify a low cost treatment strategy argues strongly for global participation, especially in low and middle income countries such as India and China where disability from traumatic injuries is substantial.
This trial is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT00788398).