Research in Brief: Incentive Spirometry

SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 - Nursing alumnus Michael Rupp (NHS’10), RN, RN-BC, served as lead author of a manuscript in the journal AACN Advanced Critical Care that looks at the use of a medical device in postoperative patients who have had abdominal or chest surgery.

The literature review specifically analyzes the incentive spirometer, which, according to the article, “encourages patients to mimic a natural deep sigh to periodically increase lung volume.”

The Problem and Question

“Pulmonary complications in the postoperative period for inpatients are a primary concern for health care providers,” the article says.  “Postoperative patients have higher incidences of complications such as atelectasis, nosocomial respiratory tract infection, and decreased functional lung capacities.”

The authors set out to understand how incentive spirometry stacks up against other procedures in preventing these negative outcomes by conducting a review of recent scholarly articles on the subject.

“The purpose of this review is to synthesize the most current literature on the subject, from research publications with high levels of evidence, to generate recommendations for practice that are evidence based for dissemination into the nursing community at large,” the article says.


The authors conclude that usage of the device had similar effects to other procedures.

“No single prophylactic technique clearly outperforms all others in preventing [postoperative pulmonary complications (PPCs)] such as nosocomial respiratory tract infection and atelectasis,” the authors write.  “Incentive spirometry, along with most other prophylactic practices, is better at preventing PPCs than no intervention at all.”

Further research, they say, is needed.

Other Authors

Rupp is now a staff nurse and evidence-based nursing scholar in the Trauma and Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Co-authors are Helen Miley, PhD, RN, ACNP, CCRN, a nurse scientist at the Ann May Center for Nursing and Allied Health, and Kathleen Russell-Babin, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, NEA-BC, senior manager at Meridian Health Institute for Evidence-Based Care.

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By Bill Cessato