How Hospitals Help Patients Recover Faster After Surgery

Many of the unpleasant things about how to prepare and recover from surgery are changing. Here’s how hospitals are helping patients get back to their daily lives faster.

No food or drink before having surgery. Bed rest. Pain Management. Many of these unpleasant things to prepare and recover from surgery are changing.

A select number of hospitals across the U.S. are testing a new protocol called “Enhanced Recovery After Surgery” (ERAS), which is helping patients get back to their daily lives faster. Here’s how it works.

Building strength

While the name makes it sound like a postoperative process, ERAS actually helps patients get healthy well before their surgery begins. Doctors who’ve studied ERAS say we should treat surgery like running a marathon — you need to train and prepare your body beforehand if you want to avoid exhaustion and complications. During an initial consultation, doctors advise their patients about healthy eating and walking 30 minutes a day to build strength. They also help their patients that are cigarette smokers attempt to quit.

Preparing for surgery

In the past, patients were instructed not to eat or drink after midnight before most surgeries. An empty stomach meant less risk that a patient would vomit while under general anesthesia. But new research shows that eating a healthy diet before surgery will help your body power through surgery better than if you’ve been fasting. So just like running a race, the new recommendation is to load up on carbs up to six hours before surgery and to drink clear liquids, including sports drinks, up to two hours before.


Anyone who’s had surgery knows the combination of anesthesia and narcotic painkillers comes with unwelcome side effects like nausea and constipation. Under ERAS guidelines, patients are now given short-acting anesthesia during surgery, and epidurals to target pain relief. IV fluids are also kept to a minimum since they can lead to swelling, which makes it difficult for patients to get up and moving shortly after surgery.

The results

What do these changes mean for patients? After surgery, patients are getting up to walk sooner, they’re more alert, and they’re able to eat solid foods faster. This, in turn, makes them less nauseous, and they regain their bowel functions faster.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the ERAS protocol reduced patients’ complication rates: Hospital stays were about 2.2 days shorter, and just 15% of patients required narcotic use, down from 63%.

80-year-old patient Clifford Bebout recently underwent the ERAS protocol before surgery, and he’s one of the believers. He walked up to a mile a day before his surgery, and he said:

“The next day I was eating pancakes and up walking the halls...I didn’t know much about what enhanced recovery was, but whatever they did worked.”

Read more about ERAS in The Washington Business Journal, Trib Live, and AARP.