Around the world, 15.3% of patients in a variety of care facilities suffer from pressure ulcers – a painful, debilitating condition that wreaks havoc on quality of life.
As the population of older individuals continues to rise, the concern over the occurrence of and subsequent cost of care related to pressure ulcers increases as well. Because pressure ulcers adversely affect those who are above age 75 with the most persistence, health care facilities, family members, caregivers and elderly patients are appropriately troubled thinking ahead to the future of the elderly population.
What are Pressure Ulcers?
The occurrence of pressure ulcers takes place when a patient is immobile for an extended period of time. Surfacing as open wounds, pressure ulcers are the result of a lack of blood flow beneath the skin due to pressure placed on the same area of the body continuously. Without oxygen and nutrients flowing freely, skin cells begin to deteriorate and eventually die off, leaving patients with moderate to severe lesions that are both painful and dangerous.
Pressure ulcers have a tendency to appear on areas of the body where minimal body fat is found or where constant pressure is applied, such as the neck or back of the head, shoulders or elbows, heels and feet, and the back.
There is a spectrum of severity for each pressure ulcer, defined by grade. With Grade 1 sores, bruising or reddening of the skin takes place due to lack of oxygen flow, while Grade 2 ulcers cause the skin to break fully. Patients suffering from Grade 3 pressure ulcers experience a large break in the skin that often reaches past the dermis to underlying fat cells and muscle.
The most unfortunate occurrence of pressure ulcers is Grade 4, where the sore wears away the skin to the point where bones or muscle are showing. The most severe pressure ulcers have the potential to lead to life-threatening conditions for patients, including hard to treat infections.
The growing problem of pressure ulcers within healthcare systems around the world can be directly linked to a lack of quality care. This is due to the fact that upwards of 95% of all pressure ulcers can be avoided easily. Neglectful care may come by way of leaving immobile patients unmoved for extended periods of time, being less than diligent when it comes to cleaning the skin, or simply ignoring the needs of patients who have trouble getting around.
The sheer number of individuals suffering from pressure ulcers creates an undue financial burden to the patient’s family members as well as the health systems tasked with providing suitable care.
When individuals receive lackluster care and subsequently develop pressure ulcers, it is not uncommon seek out recourse either through filing a complaint or a legal claim for compensation. Complaints are typically submitted in writing to the organization or caregiver responsible, although procedures vary depending on the severity of the complaint.
Reaching a point of discussion and ultimately a solution can take a substantial amount of time, however. While filing a complaint may result in a corrective action benefiting future patients, the process does not always lead to a recoup of costs associated with additional medical attention or treatment of pressure ulcers.
As a supplement to official complaint filing, family members of individuals who experience neglectful care have the option to filing a claim through legal proceedings. A representative from Patient Claim Line, a firm of medical negligence solicitors, reports that claims against medical providers related to pressure ulcers are the most common. Because pressure ulcers are mostly avoidable, it is often clear when medical negligence has occurred when caring for elderly patients.
A Path Toward Prevention
The financial burdens placed on national health care systems and facilities due to the rapidly growing patient population has led to understaffed hospitals and care homes, as well as under-trained providers. These glaring inefficiencies with staff result in the occurrence of life-threatening conditions like pressure ulcers, and ultimately a lower quality of life for patients.
To combat the issue of pressure ulcers among elderly individuals, certain steps can be taken among health care providers. A focus on quality patient care is paramount, encouraged by providing high level training to nurses, aides, caregivers and doctors in how to adequately care for individuals with mobility issues. This may include specific education on repositioning recommendations as well as cleanliness of the skin. Additionally, the use of therapeutic cushions, mattresses, pillows and chairs at home and in care facilities have proven to be beneficial in preventing pressure ulcers over time.
In order to safeguard elderly patients from neglectful medical care and reduce the unnecessary additional costs related to the treatment of pressure ulcers, health care providers must utilize the tools available to them while focusing on providing the best care possible.