After participating with other healthcare heavy-hitters in February in a task force that met to discuss recommendations for OR attire , specifically ear and hair covering, The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) expects to make changes to its Guideline for Surgical Attire.
Lisa Spruce, DNP, RN, CNS-CP, CNOR, ACNS, ACNP, FAAN, AORN’s director of evidence-based perioperative practice, tells us that AORN will still recommend complete hair coverage in that revised guideline, but “there’s not going to be a recommendation on which head covering.”
As for the coverage of ears, AORN is “probably going to come out in our new guideline and say the ears don’t need to be covered” because the task force feels the research focusing on its necessity has been inconclusive. “However,” she says, “our guideline stands as is until it’s revised.”
It is significant that AORN will be changing its official guideline. While the organization is the world’s largest professional association for perioperative nurses, it has been a tone-setter for issues that affect all healthcare workers who enter the OR. CMS and subsequently The Joint Commission followed AORN’s lead on headwear and has cited healthcare organizations accordingly.
AORN decided to reconsider its stance on headwear after a study led by Troy Markel, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Indiana University, examined the effectiveness of disposable bouffant hats and skull caps  as well as newly-laundered cloth skull caps in preventing airborne contamination.
Not only did Markel and his peers observe no significant differences between the disposable bouffant hats and disposable skull caps “with regard to particle or actively sampled microbial contamination,” they also determined that the disposable bouffant hats had greater permeability, penetration, and greater microbial shed compared to both disposable and cloth skull caps.
Therefore, the researchers wrote in conclusion that disposable bouffant hats “should not be considered superior to skull caps in preventing airborne contamination in the operating room.”
The Markel study made the strongest case to date in the contentious debate over OR headwear , which started several years ago when AORN began, depending on who you ask, either promoting the use of bouffant hats among surgical staff or advocating for skull caps to be banned. AORN encouraged full coverage of the ears in the OR, one of the reasons why it favored bouffant hats.
Spruce says the study “just sparked everybody’s interest and opened up this discussion.” AORN and others felt the evidence was enough to revisit the controversy and, according to Spruce, the American College of Surgeons assembled the task force. That group met in February and recently released a joint statement that “covering the ears is not practical for surgeons and anesthesiologists” and also that “available scientific evidence does not demonstrate any association between the type of hat or extent of hair coverage and [surgical site infection] rates.”
Spruce says AORN had already decided “that it was time to revise that guideline” but “it was valuable” to hear the thoughts among that multi-disciplinary group. She adds, “The perioperative setting has always been a team environment and we’ve always promoted that, so we want the teams to come together and agree on issues that are important to patient safety.”
AORN’s Guideline for Surgical Attire will be reviewed by AORN’s advisory board, which includes representatives from organizations that formed the task force and others. That revised guideline will be available for public comment early next year and will be ready for publication in April.