If a patient develops a chest infection after surgery, they are five times more likely to die within a year of their operation.
It is also expensive burden on the health system, costing upwards of $18,000 extra per patient.
While previous research has demonstrated the complication can be halved with timely physiotherapy before major abdominal surgery, little is known about how prevalent pneumonia is after many other common surgeries.
Launceston General Hospital physiotherapist Ianthe Boden hopes to change this, with a landmark study funded by the Clifford Craig Foundation.
Chest infection prevalence after surgery – or CHESTY – aims to identify the scale of post-surgery pneumonia cases, what causes it and what treatments are currently being offered in hospitals around Australia.
Ms Boden said the study was aimed at identifying how common pneumonia was after procedures such as open heart, thoracic, brain and back surgery.
“This research really is the next step for us to work out how big the problem is and what we need to do to fix it,” she said.
“It is also a really big collaboration between physiotherapists and hospitals all over the world.
“Certainly the biggest in this field to date, looking at what will work to prevent is and what a physiotherapist can do to help.
“If we can answer these questions we can do better at preventing pneumonia cases in the future.”
Ms Boden was one of eight recipients recently announced for the Clifford Craig Foundation’s 2019 medical research grants.
The funding will allow LGH to lead the CHESTY study, which will build on data collected from researchers and physiotherapists based all around the world.
With 32 active sites across six countries and more than 5000 participating patients contributing to the research, Ms Boden said she hoped CHESTY would set the foundation for future clinical trials.
“Before we set out to test other effective ways to reduce pneumonia after surgery, we need to better understand the issue,” she said.
“We want to learn – what’s working, what’s not and the role a physiotherapist plays.”