Managing Surgical Drains with Drain IQ

Managing Surgical Drains with Drain IQ

Managing surgical drains post mastectomy and post breast reconstruction is one of the biggest grievances I hear when I speak to women about their surgery after breast cancer.  I was in that club after my own DIEP flap breast reconstruction.  I used the paper recording sheet provided by the hospital to track drain output.  Keeping track of that piece of paper and diligently recording drain output each and every time I stripped those drains was a necessary evil and part of the process for the duration they were stitched to my body.

Managing Output Using your Phone?

But, how many of us today have our phones with us almost as an appendage?  I am surprised to hear from ladies while still in hospital after their surgery, texting and posting on social media that they are out of surgery and recovering.  That is the brilliance and solution one resident came up with to manage drain output. Benjamin Lemelman, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgery resident at the University of Chicago Medical Center, developed the Drain IQ.  I “met” him through social media and asked him to write a guest blog for my webpage since so many readers will benefit from this unique innovation.  I was honored that he took time out of his busy resident’s life to tell us how he came up with this useful tool for post mastectomy and breast reconstruction patients.  Here is what he wrote.

What’s your Drain IQ?



They are the #1 and #2 complaints I hear about following surgery.  Unfortunately, they are a necessary part of most mastectomy and breast reconstruction procedures, whether implant-based or autologous.


Last summer, my mentor and professor, Dr. David H. Song, challenged me to come up with a solution to a common problem affecting our patients.


The #1 and #2 problems that came to my mind were drains.  How can we improve them?  Is there a better way?


I thought about using Velcro or stickers, but nothing could reliably hold them in place.

For now, most drains are secured with a stitch–keeping them in place until they’re ready for removal in the office.


Later that summer, a patient came to clinic after her surgery. She had drains dangling by her side.  She complained of pulling and pain; she was over it. Done with these damn drains!


Then I asked her: How much are you emptying daily?


Silence.  She looked down at her phone. Then back up at me.


She knew she was supposed to bring her daily log to clinic.  But she forgot the paper at home (“I wasn’t really keeping track anyway. Just take them out!”).


She didn’t know how important it was.


I understand that.  Leaving the hospital is a crazy time.  Information overload.  Stress, anxiety, fear.  New medications. Old medications.  Nurses, surgeons, friends, spouses, parents, children. In and out of the room. It’s not even 6am!


Drains are important. And knowing how much is actually “draining” helps the surgeon decide when it’s best to remove them.  Each patient, surgeon, and procedure is different.  Some patients can have drains for a few days.  Some for a few weeks.


As my patient looked down at her text message, I came up with a solution.  Not to eliminate drains completely.  Not to secure them with a painless device.  But to make it easier to keep track of them.  And hopefully get them removed sooner.


Drain IQ was born in that exam room.  I used my experience as a 2013 finalist in the University of Chicago Mobile App Challenge (@MyRootsApp) to bring the idea to life.  Working with a team of designers at Friends of the Web, we built a simple App (free, iOS) to help patients keep track of their drains.  It has some very exciting features, and I encourage you to take a look, before your surgery or during your recovery.


Thank you @6state for this incredible opportunity.  You are an inspiration to patients and surgeons around the world.

Dr. Lemelman, on behalf of mastectomy and breast reconstruction patients, the pleasure was all mine!  Don’t lose those cell phones and download your Drain IQ app before surgery!

Packing for DIEP flap surgery



References made to my surgical group, surgeon and healthcare team are made because they are aligned with my values and met my criterion after I did research of their practices and success rates. Any other healthcare provider that displays the same skill, compassion education and outreach to patients will be given consideration and recognition on this website.  The information contained on this website is not a substitute for or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician for medical advice.
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About Terri

I am a patient educator and advocate for choices in breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. Statistically, many women are not being informed of their choices due to many factors. Breast reconstruction is a personal choice. Providing information and education about those choices is a patient rite. It is the mission and focus of my work to provide that education and information.

2 Replies to “Managing Surgical Drains with Drain IQ”

  1. Gail Spann

    Drains, and drains placed in the most awkward places, are a real annoyance. Yes, we know we need to do the work, but after enduring surgery it is natural to want to deal with recovery without the grenades being attached!!!

    • Terri Post author

      Boy isn’t that the truth, Gail! As many say, “The pains of the drains”. They do serve a necessary function in DIEP flap and many surgeries and I always tell patients, they are temporary, not easy, but temporary. The “grenade” shape certainly does make for challenging wardrobe days while they are in. Thanks for your comment.

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