Following abdominal surgery, many hospitals use enhanced recovery or “fast-track” pathways that allow patients to start drinking once awake from anesthesia on the same day of surgery. However, one in every four patients is unable to tolerate feeding because of delayed recovery of bowel function, a condition called postoperative ileus (POI). When present, POI prolongs hospital length of stay by an average of 30% and generates annual costs exceeding $1.75 billion.
Monitoring for POI is typically limited to incidental interactions with the physicians and nurses, which occur only intermittently throughout the day. Assessments typically rely on observation, physical examination, and use of a stethoscope to monitor bowel sounds as a measure of intestinal motility. However, stethoscopes are generally unhelpful because bowel sounds are only measured for short periods, are captured in an non-standardized manner and are analyzed using gestalt rather than objective parameters.