New Programs Helping Reduce Risk of Bedsores for SCI Patients

For patients left immobilized due to spinal cord damage or other injuries, the risk of chronic wounds brought on by pressure ulcers is an everyday reality.  These wounds, commonly called bedsores, develop in areas of the skin or tissue that lost blood flow and are dead or dying.  

When patients remain in one position too long, these wounds can develop.  The U.S. Library of Medicine points out common wound locations include areas where the bone is close to the skin, such as ankles, the back, elbows, heels, and hips. 

The University of Alabama Spinal Cord Injury Information Network explains that although anyone can develop a pressure sore, it is estimated that up to 80% of those with a spinal cord injury (SCI) will develop this wound at some point during their life.  Furthermore, 30% of those with an SCI will have more than one. 

However, The Wall Street Journal reports that an innovative new program may have the answer to decreasing those startling statistics.  This program, launched at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, takes a proactive and holistic approach to patient care to ensure these potentially life-threatening infections never occur in the first place. 

Unlike other hospitals, which often take a reactive approach to treating pressure sores on bedridden patients, at Montefiore’s wound center “the sickest patients are seen more frequently, receive more aggressive debridement, and are more closely monitored for wound infection,” the Wall Street Journal explains.  Debridement refers to the process of removing dead, damaged, or infected tissue so remaining healthy tissue has a better chance to heal.    

Furthermore, Montefiore’s staff is trained in wound care and prevention, which may not be the case at other facilities.  At Montefiore, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff rely on preventative screening, early detection, and aggressive treatments to fight these wounds.    

The Wall Street Journal reports that bed sores represent a serious and growing threat to both public health and the economy.  As our nation’s baby boomers age and diabetes and obesity continue to plague more and more citizens, the risk of these chronic wounds also increases.  According to a 2009 study, treating bedsores costs the country about $25 billion a year. 

Many new wound clinics and novel treatments, like cultured skin cells that stimulate tissue to heal and pumps that drain wounds using sealed dressings, have appeared in the last 10 years to treat these patients. However, some experts feel that taking a holistic and comprehensive approach to patient health is the real answer.    

Though Montefiore’s wound center uses some of the latest treatments, like oxygen therapy and tissue regeneration, Director Anna Flattau says they also hope to “reduce the need for more expensive technologies by treating wounds earlier and better so they have the best chance of healing.”  The approach she promotes involves coordinating care among “doctors, physician assistants and nurses to prevent wounds like bedsores or diabetic foot ulcers before they develop, and aggressively treat them if they do start.”  

However, the risk of a chronic wound does not end after hospital discharge, particularly for many SCI patients.  The article explains that many of these patients with limited mobility cannot make it to an outpatient wound clinic for later treatments, which is why Montefiore created a home-care follow-up program.  

“As part of the home-care program, family caregivers are taught to deal with issues that can arise,” the article explains.  Furthermore, nurses who come into patients’ homes offer support, clean new wounds, and discuss medications and strategies that will help ensure continued healing. 

According to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 95% of all pressure sores can be prevented.  With hospitals like the Montefiore Medical Center taking the lead with innovative programs, SCI patients now have access to the preventative programs they need to protect them from the potentially lethal risks posed by confinement to a bed or wheelchair.