Legal Matters

What caused Mr. M’s pressure ulcer?

A court case answers the question as to whether a pressure ulcer was preventable

By Nancy J. Brent, MS, RN, JD

Pressure ulcers are a major health risk for every adult patient. Risk factors include sepsis, hypotension, and age 70 or older. These risk factors became all too real when Mr. M developed pressure ulcers after being admitted to a Texas hospital.


Mr. M, age 81, presented at a medical center’s emergency department on January 2 complaining of abdominal pain. After undergoing an assessment, he was diagnosed with gallstones and admitted to the hospital. The next day, he had gallbladder surgery. He subsequently developed a bowel obstruction and had to undergo two more surgeries for this condition over the next 10 days.
On January 13, he was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) because of multiple serious medical conditions, including respiratory distress syndrome (necessitating ventilatory support), septic shock, a “blood infection” that caused his blood pressure to drop, and multiorgan failure. His primary physician discontinued tube feedings out of concern they might exacerbate his renal failure; he wrote a do-not-resuscitate order and ordered sedation.
Mr. M was unable to turn or position himself in any way. While in the ICU, he developed a “skin tear” on the tailbone (coccyx) that progressed to a serious pressure ulcer. On February 6, his condition improved enough to allow his transfer to a rehabilitation hospital, where he developed pressure ulcers on his heels. He was transferred to another hospital; the ulcer on his coccyx healed by August. He remained in that hospital for 1 year before being discharged home.
Despite healing of the pressure ulcer on his coccyx, the wound area remained hard and painful, and Mr. M experienced “daily discomfort” there. Also, he was unable to do many of the things he’d been able to do before his hospitalization.

Mr. M files a medical malpractice suit

Mr. M sued the medical center, alleging the hospital was negligent by failing to prevent the pressure ulcer from forming through the use of known “pressure relief” methods, and that the hospital failed to provide proper care and treatment of the wound once it was discovered.
At trial, the medical center lawyers argued that Mr. M’s grave condition caused the pressure ulcer to develop. The jury returned a verdict for Mr. M, finding that the medical center’s negligence proximately caused the injuries he sustained. It awarded him $35,000 for medical expenses; $135,000 for past physical pain and mental anguish; $25,000 for future physical pain and mental anguish; $25,000 for past physical impairment; and $25,000 for future physical impairment. The medical center appealed the decision.

Medical center appeals the verdict

Several issues were raised by the medical center on appeal. Of particular interest to nurses and wound care practitioners was the “cause in fact” or the “proximate cause” of Mr. M’s pressure ulcer on the coccyx. Because an expert witness must establish proximate cause based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, Mr. M’s case became a battle of the experts regarding the care he received, or lack of care, relative to development of the pressure ulcer.

Expert witness testimony for Mr. M

The first nurse expert to testify was Mr. M’s highly qualified expert. She testified about the various acceptable ways to provide pressure relief, including turning the patient or, if the patient can’t be turned, repositioning. The latter requires use of foam wedges or pillows to elevate a particular body part. The nurse expert testified that if a patient can’t be turned or repositioned, that fact must be documented along with the reason for inability to carry out this nursing care.
Proper assessment of the pressure ulcer is required so that other team members can “see” the wound; the clinician who assesses the wound should draw a picture of exactly what he or she saw when documenting the note in the patient’s chart. The nurse expert testified that the assessment should include the color, duration, and depth of the pressure ulcer; presence or absence of infection; and whether the tissue was dead or perfused.
After reviewing the medical center’s policies and protocols on pressure relief, which required nurses to provide pressure relief every 2 hours, and the depositions of the nurses who’d cared for Mr. M, the nurse expert testified there was no documentation showing Mr. M received any pressure relief from January 13 to January 16. She said she could only conclude that the nurses failed to turn or reposition him during those days. The only notation made about his skin condition was when nurses discovered the “skin tear” on January 14. After this discovery, the physician wasn’t notified of it until January 19. On that date, the physician ordered a wound care consult, but the actual consultation didn’t occur until 3 days later. Even with the wound consultant’s specific, written orders to care for the wound, only one notation existed showing that the orders were followed. Also, the wound care orders weren’t entered into Mr. M’s care plan until January 28. Additionally, in their depositions, the nurses caring for Mr. M couldn’t recall changing the dressing as ordered.
Therefore, in the nurse expert’s opinion, the pressure ulcer on Mr. M’s coccyx was caused directly by failure of the ICU nurses to provide pressure relief from January 14 to January 16 and that providing the wound care that was ordered would have prevented the ulcer from getting worse and would have healed the ulcer.
Although a physician serving as a second expert for Mr. M also testified that pressure relief should have been provided, he couldn’t say that development of the pressure ulcer was unpreventable.

Expert witness testimony for the medical center

Not surprisingly, the medical center’s expert witnesses, two of whom were physicians, testified that because of Mr. M’s general medical condition, he would have developed the pressure ulcer even if hospital policies and protocols had been followed. The hospital’s nurse expert witness stated that Mr. M’s pressure ulcer was not preventable because of his medical condition, regardless of whether or not he was turned. In her opinion, the active range of motion his nurses put him through was enough to reperfuse the area.

Appellate court’s decision

The appellate court upheld the trial court jury’s verdict, stating that evidence presented at the trial was legally and factually sufficient to support that verdict.

Take-away points

Mr. M’s case undoubtedly was complicated by his age and general medical condition, as well as disagreement among expert witnesses as to the cause of the pressure ulcer on his coccyx. Even so, the appellate court held that the evidence at trial (specifically that presented by Mr. M’s nurse expert witness) was sufficient legally and factually to support the verdict in favor of Mr. M.
This case illustrates many areas of importance for nurses in terms of formation and care of pressure ulcers. They include the following:
• Risk factors supporting potential formation of pressure ulcers can’t be overlooked or underestimated by nursing staff.
• A plan to prevent pressure ulcers should be initiated on admission for every patient who is immobile or has other risk factors for pressure ulcers.
• Documentation of every aspect of nursing care that’s initiated and continued to prevent pressure ulcers from forming must be carried out as ordered and pursuant to hospital policy and protocol.
• Care plans, communications with other health team members, and carrying out of orders must be done as soon as possible.
• Assessment and documentation of pressure ulcers should include enough detail so other health team members can visualize what the nurse entering the documentation has seen.
• The nurse should assess and stage the pressure ulcer at each dressing change.
• One’s expert witness must be credentialed, educated, and experienced in would care prevention and treatment, because his or her testimony can win or lose a case.

Nursing remains at the forefront of protecting and safeguarding patients from pressure ulcers. Although not every ulcer can be prevented, the goal is to prevent as many ulcers as possible. If a pressure ulcer does occur, caregivers’ essential focus must be on healing or preventing further deterioration and infection.

Selected references
Columbia Medical Center Subsidiary, L.P., d/b/a/
North Central Medical Center, Appellant, v. John Meier, Appellee. 198 S.W. 3d 408 (Ct. Appeals 2006).

Lyder CH, Ayello EA. Pressure ulcers: A Patient Safety Issue. In: Hughes RG, ed. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook For Nurses. Rockville, MD: Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality. April 2008.
. Accessed November 1, 2012.

Nancy J. Brent is an attorney in Wilmette, Illinois. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and doesn’t constitute legal advice.

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Clinician Resources

There’s an app for that! Here are a variety of medical apps that you might want to try. You can download them in the iTunes store, and the basic service is free.


More than 1.4 million healthcare professionals use this app from WebMD, which includes:
• medical news
• clinical reference information, such as drugs and diseases
• medical calculators (not available for iPad).
The app is available for Android, iPad, and iPhone/iPod touch devices.

Pressure Wound Analyzer

Use this app to take a photo of a wound. The app segments the image into red, yellow, and black to help with ulcer classification. You can also use the app to track changes in the wound over time. The app is available for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch devices. Note: This is free for a limited time.


The ePSS (Electronic Preventive Services Selector) app allows you to search and browse the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations on the Web or a mobile device. The app is from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and is available for Android, iPad, and iPhone/iPod touch devices.


This app from the University of Michigan Health System allows users to complete and store photographs of the skin. Features include:
• guidance on performing a skin cancer self-exam and full-body photographic survey
• tracking of detected skin lesions and moles for changes over time
• notifications/reminders to perform self-exams on a routine basis
• storage of photos for baseline comparisons during routine follow-up self-
• informational videos and literature on skin cancer prevention and healthy skin as well as a skin cancer risk calculator function.
The app is available for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch devices.

Glucose Buddy—Diabetes Logbook Manager w/syncing, blood pressure, weight tracking

This data storage utility app is perfect for your patients with diabetes who want all their information in one place. Users can manually enter their glucose results, carbohydrate consumption, insulin dosages, and activities, and then view the data in a free online account. Another option is the ability to set reminders for when it’s time to check blood glucose.
The app is available for Android, iPad, and iPhone/iPod touch devices.

3M Health Care Pressure Ulcer Staging

Use this app to learn more about pressure ulcer staging. It includes information about 3M pressure ulcer products.
The app is available for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch devices.

SACS™ Instrument

This evidence-based tool is helpful for assessing and classifying peristomal skin lesions. Click here for more information about the SACS Instrument.
The app is available for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch devices.

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Business Consult


Feel more relaxed with restorative yoga

By Lisa Marie Bernardo, PhD, MPH, RN, HFI, RYT

Do you experience chronic stress? Is your body stiff and inflexible? Does your mind seem dull and sluggish, your spirit exhausted?
Restorative yoga may help “open” your joints, ease your mind, and revive your spirit. It’s based on the concept that we’re overstimulated and don’t get enough rest. Constant stimulation activates the sympathetic nervous system, overtaxing the fight-or-flight response. The body responds by increasing cortisol and glucose production, which (along with additional unhealthy responses) raises the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Restorative yoga promotes active relaxation, helping to halt the overstimulation cycle. It promotes balance by alternately stimulating and relaxing the body, which is supported in yoga poses with such props as blankets, pillows, yoga mat, and eye covers. Research suggests restorative yoga may ease hot flashes in postmenopausal women and may promote a calm, positive mood in women with ovarian or breast cancer.

Five facets of restorative yoga

Restorative yoga takes a five-faceted approach to relieve the effects of stress. Over time, you’re likely to notice a new awareness of and appreciation for your body, mind, and spirit.
Simply put, networking is an information exchange, a forum for communicating your needs or agenda and, in return, listening and responding to others’ needs or agendas. Good networking requires emotional reciprocity, which means caring about the needs and agendas of the people you network with. Caring about others’ needs is what nurses do, so networking really shouldn’t be that difficult for a nurse.
1. Using props, restorative yoga supports the body in yoga poses, helping muscles and joints release tension and achieve muscular balance.
2. The restorative poses move the spine in all directions—flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. This enhances spinal flex­-ibility, lubricates vertebrae, and strengthens the deep muscles that stabilize the spine.
3. Inverted poses, in which the feet and legs are elevated, counter the effects of gravity and promote lymph and fluid drainage to the heart.
4. The poses compress and release internal organs, cleansing them while aiding removal of cellular waste and renewing oxygen and nutrients.
5. Finally, the poses balance the body’s male (prana) and female (apana) energies.

Learning the poses

To learn the poses, consider taking a restorative yoga class. (See Finding an instructor.) Beforehand, make sure to tell the instructor about any special health concerns you have, so the instructor can modify the poses for you. Expect to bring your own blankets, pillows, eye covers, and yoga mat. The class will last from 60 to 90 minutes.
Restorative yoga typically doesn’t involve active (hatha) yoga poses, although it may include stretching poses to warm muscles and joints before the restorative poses begin. The instructor will help you use your props to make the poses right for you, and will direct you into a pose using them. Expect to stay in the pose for 5 to 10 minutes. The instructor will guide you by helping you focus on your breath and turn your attention inward. If your mind wanders and your body stays active, accept this reaction and don’t judge yourself. Over time, you’ll learn to use your breath to release tension and to focus and calm your mind.
After you hold the pose for the required duration, the instructor will help you into the next one. Generally, the class is near-silent, with minimal talking; the lights are low and music may play.
W­hen the class ends, you may feel more relaxed and in touch with yourself. If you feel restless and jittery instead, accept your reaction. Don’t judge yourself. Try again. Give yourself the opportunity to experience something different.
Restorative yoga is just one method to renew and reconnect with your inner being. Only you can know if it’s right for you. n

Selected references
Cohen B, Kanaya A, Macer J, Shen H, Chang A, Grady D. Feasibility and acceptability of restorative yoga for treatment of hot flushes: a pilot trial. Maturitas. 2007;56(2):198-204.
Danhauer SC, Tooze JA, Farmer DF, Campbell CR, McQuellon RP, Barrett R, Miller BE. Restorative yoga for women with ovarian or breast cancer: findings from a pilot study. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2008;6(2):47-58.

Lisa Marie Bernardo is the managing member of The PIlates Centre, LLC, in Hampton Township, Pennsylvania, and adjunct faculty at Carlow University School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

To find a certified yoga instructor in your area, check the Yoga Alliance website at  Restorative Yoga Teachers ( focuses exclusively on restorative yoga. This site is operated by Judith Hansen Lasater, PhD, the leader in restorative yoga practice.

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Sample procedure for nonsterile dressing change

By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS

Each month, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice.


• Nonsterile dressings protect open wounds from contamination and absorb drainage.
• Clean aseptic technique should be used to change nonsterile dressings.
• In the event of multiple wounds, each wound is considered a separate treatment. (more…)

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Clinical Notes

NPUAP releases new position statement on exposed cartilage as Stage IV ulcer

The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) has released a new position statement, “Pressure ulcers with exposed cartilage are Stage IV pressure ulcers,” which states that pressure ulcers with exposed cartilage should be classified as Stage IV.
NPUAP notes that although the presence of “visible or palpable cartilage at the base of a pressure ulcer” wasn’t included in Stage IV terminology, cartilage “serves the same anatomical function as bone,” so it fits into the current Stage IV definition, “Full thickness tissue loss with exposed bone, tendon or muscle. Slough or eschar may be present on some parts of the wound bed. Often including undermining and tunneling.”

Medicare expenditures for diabetic foot care varies significantly by region

Medicare spending on patients with diabetes who have foot ulcers and lower extremity amputations varies significantly by region, according to a study in Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, but more spending doesn’t significantly reduce 1-year mortality.
Geographic variation in Medicare spending and mortality for diabetic patients with foot ulcers and amputations” examined data from 682,887 patients with foot ulcers and 151,752 patients with lower extremity amputations.
Macrovascular complications in patients with foot ulcers were associated with higher spending, and these complications in patients with amputations were more common in regions with higher mortality rates.
Rates of hospital admission were associated with higher spending and increased mortality rates for patients with foot ulcers and amputations.
“Geographic variation in Medicare spending and mortality rates for diabetic patients with foot ulcers and amputations is associated with regional differences in the utilization of inpatient services and the prevalence of macrovascular complications,” the study concludes.

Patients who develop pressure ulcers in hospital more likely to die

Medicare patients who develop pressure ulcers in the hospital are more likely to die during the hospital stay, have longer lengths of stay, and to be readmitted within 30 days after discharge, according to a study of 51,842 patients in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers: results from the National Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System Study” found that 4.5% of patients developed at least one new pressure ulcer during their hospitalization. Length of stay averaged 4.8 days for patients who didn’t develop a pressure ulcer, compared to 11.2 days for those with a new pressure ulcer.

Patients with diabetic foot ulcers may have higher risk of death

Patients with diabetes who have foot ulcers have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, according to a meta-analysis in Diabetologia.
The association of ulceration of the foot with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in patients with diabetes: a meta-analysis” notes that the more frequent occurrence of cardiovascular disease only partly explains the increased mortality rate. Other explanations may include the more advanced stage of diabetes associated with those who had foot ulcers.
A article about the study reported that “analysis of data from more than 17,000 diabetes patients in eight studies found that the more than 3,000 patients with a history of foot ulcers had an extra 58 deaths per 1,000 people each year than those without foot ulcers.”
The study authors emphasize the importance of screening patients with diabetes for foot ulcers so intervention can begin early, as well as lowering cardiovascular risk factors.
Access patient information on foot care from the American Diabetes Association.

Nurse’s innovation for ostomy patients could improve quality of life

An oncology nurse in Australia has developed StomaLife, an alternative to ostomy bags.
StomaLife is a ceramic appliance that eliminates the need for an ostomy bag. According to the StomaLife website, the appliance uses a magnetic implant technology that provides a “pushing force” from within the body outward in order to keep the site intact, while a second part is placed on the stoma site. A cotton gauze pad is used between the skin and the appliance to keep the site separated and to provide air circulation to the surrounding skin.
“The benefits of StomaLife to ostomy patients are continence all day, reduced skin irritation and infection, odour and sound control, leak prevention, waste material flow control and on-demand gas release,” says Saied Sabeti.
StomaLife still needs to be tested and is not yet being produced.

View: StomaLife video

New laser-activated bio-adhesive polymer aims to replace sutures

The Journal of Visualized Experiments, a peer-reviewed video journal, has published “A chitosan based, laser activated thin film surgical adhesive, ‘SurgiLux’: preparation and demonstration.”
SurgiLux is a laser-activated, bio-adhesive polymer that is chitosan-based. Chitosan is a polymer derived from chitin, which is found in fungal cell walls or in exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects. This molecular component allows SurgiLux to form low-energy bonds between the polymer and the desired tissue when it absorbs light.
The technology may be able to replace traditional sutures in the clinical setting. SurgiLux polymer can achieve a uniform seal when activated by a laser and has antimicrobial properties, which help prevent a wound from becoming infected. It also maintains a barrier between the tissue and its surroundings.
SurgiLux has been tested both in vitro and in vivo on a variety of tissues, including nerve, intestine, dura mater, and cornea.

Palliative care raises patient satisfaction and reduces costs

Kaiser Permanente’s home-based palliative care program increased patient satisfaction and decreased emergency department visits, inpatient admissions, and costs, according to an innovation profile in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Innovations Exchange.
In-home palliative care allows more patients to die at home, leading to higher satisfaction and lower acute care utilization and costs” notes that the program uses an interdisciplinary team of providers to manage symptoms and pain, provide emotional and spiritual support, and educate patients and family members on an ongoing basis about changes in the patient’s condition.
Other components of the program include a 24-hour nurse call center, biweekly team meetings, and bereavement services to the family after the patient dies.

More research needed to determine efficacy of maggot debridement therapy

The efficacy of maggot debridement therapy (MDT)—a review of comparative clinical trials” concludes that “poor quality of the data used for evaluating the efficacy of MDT highlights the need for more and better designed investigations.”
The authors of the article in International Wound Journal reviewed three randomized clinical trials and five nonrandomized clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of sterile Lucilia sericata applied on ulcers.
The studies found that MDT was “significantly more effective than hydrogel or a mixture of conventional therapy modalities, including hydrocolloid, hydrogel and saline moistened gauze,” but the designs of the study were “suboptimal.”

Use tool to select correct antimicrobial dressing

Ensuring that the correct antimicrobial dressing is selected,” in Wounds International, emphasizes that dressing selection should be based on assessment of the microbial burden in the wound, the wound type, and the location and condition of the wound.
The article includes a checklist that may be helpful for deciding on the level of bacterial burden in a wound. The checklist is used to determine four levels of risk—colonized: at risk; localized infection; spreading infection; and systemic infection. Each level has a corresponding definition.
A table of antimicrobial dressings reviews the antimicrobial agent and dressing form, and the article ends with a case study.

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Lymphedema 101 – Part 2: Treatment

By Steve Norton, CDT, CLT-LANA

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series, published in the September-October issue, discussed lymphedema pathology and diagnosis. This article, Part 2, covers treatment.

Traditional treatment approaches

Traditionally, lymphedema treatment has been approached without a clear understanding of the underlying structure and function of lymphatic tissues. Ineffective traditional treatments include elevation, elastic garments, pneumatic pumps, surgery, diuretics, and benzopyrones (such as warfarin). Because many traditional treatments are still overused and some may be appropriate for limited use, it’s important for clinicians to understand these approaches.


As a sole therapy for lymphedema, elevation of the affected part provides only short-lived results. Ever-increasing macromolecular wastes retain water against the effects of gravity. Increased interstitial colloid osmotic pressure must be addressed by interventions targeted at improving lymphatic function—not just a position change. Otherwise, lymphedema will progress. Furthermore, elevation alone is impractical, promotes deconditioning, and alters lifestyle for prolonged periods.

Elastic garments

Elastic garments prove inadequate because they attempt to treat lymphedema with compression alone. Medically correct garments are engineered with thoughtful attention to high-quality textiles and offer gradient support, which promotes proximal flow. However, without precise tissue stimulation leading to improved lymphangioactivity (lymph-vessel pulsation), macromolecular wastes can’t be removed.
Interstitial pressure increases caused by compression garments impede further fluid accumulation. When these garments are removed, the spontaneous girth increase causes an imprecise fit, and the garment rapidly leads to a countertherapeutic effect. Furthermore, compression garments don’t combat the osmotic forces generated by ever-increasing interstitial wastes. Except in patients diagnosed with stage 0 or stage 1 lymphedema, disease progression involving metaplasia ensues. Although elastic compression garments are a cornerstone of long-term management, they shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone treatment.

Pneumatic compression pump

Formerly, the pneumatic compression pump (PCP) was considered the standard of care for lymphedema. However, when inflated, the pump doesn’t increase the frequency of lymph-vessel contraction or enhance lymph capillary absorption. What’s more, accelerated fibrosis development and rapid tissue refilling occur when a PCP is removed. Also, PCP use disregards the ipsilateral territory of the excised regional nodes, effectively dumping fluid from the leg into the trunk. A PCP is appropriate only when nothing else is available, as it may worsen the patient’s condition.


Surgical approaches to treating lymphedema involve either excisional (debulking) or microsurgical techniques. The most extensive surgical technique, the radical Charles procedure, completely debulks all involved tissue down to the muscle fascia. Split-thickness grafts are then harvested from excised skin and donor sites, and applied to the fascia to achieve so-called limb reduction.
Most debulking procedures have been applied to lower-extremity lymphedema and offer poor cosmetic results. Less radical surgeries favor long incisions, preserving the skin but excising subcutaneous edematous portions to reduce girth. Although less cosmetically alarming, these procedures effectively amputate the subcutaneous space where lymph vessels reside. Other surgical approaches are beyond the scope of this article.
Generally, surgery isn’t a good approach for any patient, as it’s linked to significant morbidity, such as skin necrosis, infection, and sensory changes. In the future, less invasive procedures may be available that yield significant improvement without these adverse effects.


Although diuretics are prescribed appropriately to address water-rich edemas of venous origin, they disregard the fact that lymphedema is a protein-rich edema. Long-term, high-dose diuretic therapy leads to treatment-resistant limbs, similar to those that have received intensive pneumatic compression.


Benzopyrones such as warfarin decrease swelling by combating protein accumulation in fluid. Such drugs have undergone clinical trials abroad. Their mechanism is to promote macrophage migration into interstitial fluid, as well as subsequent proteolysis. Due to significant risk of liver damage or failure, benzopyrones haven’t been approved for treating lymphedema.

Complete decongestive therapy: The current treatment approach

Currently, the gold standard for lymphedema treatment is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Michael Foeldi and Etelka Foeldi, who originated this method, discovered a unique symbiotic relationship among five distinct modalities that addresses the challenges of lymphedema treatment. In 1989, CDT was brought to the United States by Robert Lerner and has become the mainstay of lymphedema treatment here.
CDT is a two-phase approach involving an intensive clinical effort followed by a semi-intensive home-care program geared toward autonomous management, stabilization, and continual improvement. It involves manual lymph drainage (MLD), compression bandaging, exercise, skin and nail hygiene, and self-care education. (See Phases of complete decongestive therapy by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Manual lymph drainage

A type of soft-tissue mobilization, MLD provides skin traction, stimulating superficial lymph vessels and nodes. Lymph capillaries contain large inter-endothelial inlets called swinging tips, akin to overlapping shingles. Each overlapping cell is tethered to the interstitial matrix by anchoring filaments, so that fluid increases cause immediate distention and lymph inflow. Manual skin traction using MLD promotes greater lymph fluid uptake by stretching these filamentous structures, opening the swinging tips.
MLD also provides extrinsic stimulation of the lymphangion (the segment of a lymph vessel between a distal and proximal valve), drawing fluid into the system at the capillary level and promoting flow at the vessel level toward regional lymph nodes. Usually, these segments contract and relax in a rhythmic fashion six times per minute. MLD triples this output to 18 or 20 times per minute, greatly enhancing systemic transport.
MLD requires intensive daily treatment sessions to strengthen collateral flow as a pathway to circumventing surgical or developmental lymphatic disruption. Treatment strategies further recruit more deeply situated lymphatics such as the thoracic duct, as well as lumbar trunks that empty at the juncture of the internal jugular and subclavian veins to improve global uptake. MLD thus stimulates deeper vessel angioactivity to help drain the superficial vessels that drain toward them.

Compression bandaging

Compression bandaging provides tissue support after MLD to prevent reflux, slow new fluid formation, and mechanically soften fibrotic areas. Bandaging techniques provide a high working pressure to harness the muscle and joint pumps as a propellant for lymph while resisting retrograde flow created by gravity and centrifugal forces during movement. Pure cotton materials coupled with specialized padding create a soft, castlike environment, which confines swollen tissues without constriction. By relying on high working pressure and low resting pressures to decrease limb swelling, this strategy achieves greater control over intensity (level of compression/pressure exerted), with little to no soft-tissue injury or discomfort.
The patient wears this bulky inelastic complex after each MLD treatment until the next day’s session to ensure limb-volume reduction in a stable, linear fashion. Once a plateau is reached, tissue stabilization and self-care education are the goals of additional sessions.


Exercise always must be done with adequate support to counteract fluid formation. During the intensive CDT phase, limbs are bandaged to provide complete around-the-clock containment. Gentle exercises encourage blood flow into the muscle; during muscle contraction, this creates a favorable internal pressure that effectively squeezes the subcutaneous space between the bandage wall and muscle. Because every bandage strives to provide a gradient of support, fluid tends to drain proximally to the bandage—in most cases, to the trunk.

Skin and nail hygiene

Without intact, well-hydrated skin, cellulitic infections occur in many lymphedema patients whose immune response has been diminished by regional lymphadenectomy or inherited deficiencies. To prevent infection caused by avoidable external events, patients receive clear guidelines to reinforce appropriate behavior. As most cellulitis results from resident skin pathogens (streptococci and staphylococci), maintaining a low skin pH helps control colonization. Ways to avoid recurrent infections include maintaining an acid mantle on the skin using low-pH-formulated lotions and avoiding injury from daily tasks that may scratch, puncture, burn, or abrade the skin. Patients should receive lists of self-care precautions at the time of treatment.

Self-care education

Because lymphedema is a chronic condition, patients must receive self-care education for daily management to avoid lymphedema destabilization, which can lead to tissue saturation and subsequent skin changes. Therapists must provide patients with appropriate self-care tools and knowledge to maintain adequate treatment results. Teaching topics include how to apply and remove compression garments and bandages and how to exercise safely, preserve skin integrity, monitor for infection, and respond appropriately to infection and significant changes in limb mobility.

An underrecognized and mistreated problem

Lymphedema remains an underrecognized and mistreated condition, even though CDT yields safe, reliable results. Early detection, accurate staging, proper diagnosis, and appropriate treatment can slow the inevitable progression of lymphedema. Wound care specialists should adapt wound therapy to address not just the wound but the edematous environment responsible for delayed wound resolution.

Selected references
Al-Niaimi F, Cox N. Cellulitis and lymphedema: a vicious cycle. J Lymphoedema. 2009;4:38-42.

Browse N, Burnand KG, Mortimer PS. Diseases of the Lymphatics. London: Hodder Arnold; 2003.

Casley-Smith JR, Casley-Smith JR. Modern Treatment for Lymphoedema. 5th ed. The Lymphoedema Association of Australia; 1997.

Cooper R, White R. Cutaneous infections in lymphoedema. J Lymphoedema. 2009:4:44-8.

Foeldi M. Foeldi’s Textbook of Lymphology: For Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2012.

International Society of Lymphology. The diagnosis and treatment of peripheral lymphedema. Consensus Document of the International Society of Lymphology. Lymphology. 2009 Jun;42(2):51-60.

Leduc A, Bastin R, Bourgeois P. Lymphatic reabsorption of proteins and pressotherapies. Progress in Lymphology XI. 1988:591-2.

National Lymphedema Network Medical Advisory Committee. Position Statement: Lymphedema Risk Reduction Practices. Revised May 2012. Accessed September 5, 2012.

Pappas CJ, O’Donnell TF Jr. Long-term results of compression treatment for lymphedema. J Vasc Surg. 1992 Oct;16(4):555-62.

Whittlinger H. Textbook of Dr. Vodder’s Manual Lymphatic Drainage. Vol 1. 7th ed. New York, NY: Thieme; 2003.

Steve Norton is cofounder of Lymphedema & Wound Care Education and executive director of the Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy in Matawan, New Jersey.

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MRSA: What wound care professionals need to know

By Joseph G. Garner, MD, FIDSA, FSHEA

Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most feared human pathogens, causing a wide range of infections. Most wound care professionals can expect to frequently encounter patients with S. aureus infections. Soft-tissue infections caused by S. aureus include impetigo, cellulitis, and cutaneous abscesses, as well as such life-threatening processes as necrotizing fasciitis and pyomyositis (a hematogenous intramuscular abscess). Serious non-soft-tissue infections include septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, pneumonia, endocarditis, and sepsis.

Why is S. aureus such a nasty bug?

S. aureus produces various cellular and extracellular factors involved in the pathogenesis of infection. S. aureus protein A, an important surface protein, helps the organism resist phagocytosis. Also, S. aureus produces several cytotoxins and enzymes that contribute to infection spread and severity. In addition, some strains produce toxins (including toxic shock syndrome toxin-1) that function as superantigens—molecules that nonspecifically trigger release of large amounts of cytokines, leading to a sepsislike condition. Taken together, such factors combine to make S. aureus a dangerous pathogen.

MRSA emergence

When penicillin was introduced in the 1940s, virtually all S. aureus isolates were sensitive to that drug. But soon thereafter, S. aureus strains that produced a β-lactamase enzyme capable of inactivating penicillin became widespread. During the 1950s, outbreaks of penicillin-resistant S. aureus occurred in many U.S. hospitals. Introduction of penicillinase-resistant antibiotics, such as methicillin and oxacillin, temporarily restored the ability to treat all strains of this pathogen using penicillin antibiotics. The first strain of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) was described in 1961 shortly after introduction of penicillinase-resistant antibiotics.
The mechanism of methicillin resistance involves a mutation in one of the bacterial cell-wall proteins to which penicillins must bind to kill the bacterium. This mutation renders the organism resistant to all penicillins and penems and almost all cephalosporins.
MRSA incidence has increased steadily to the point where it currently constitutes up to 60% of S. aureus isolates in many U.S. hospitals. These organisms commonly carry genetic material that makes them resistant to various non-β lactam antibiotics as well, leading some to suggest that the term MRSA should stand for multiply resistant S. aureus.
S. aureus has continued to mutate in the face of persistent antibiotic pressure. Vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus (VISA) was described in 1997; vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA), in 2003. Fortunately, these two strains remain rare and haven’t become established pathogens. (See Strains of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Healthcare- versus community-acquired MRSA

Although MRSA initially arose and spread within healthcare settings (chiefly acute-care hospitals), a community-based variant was described in 1998. Called community-
acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA), this variant differs from healthcare-associated MRSA (HCA-MRSA) in more ways than the acquisition site. CA-MRSA occurs predominately in otherwise healthy children and young adults.
It most commonly presents as recurrent cutaneous abscesses, although life-threatening infections (such as necrotizing fasciitis and pneumonia) also have occurred. The pro­pensity to cause cutaneous abscesses isn’t fully understood but may relate partly to production of the Panton-Valentine toxin by many CA-MRSA isolates.
In contrast, HCA-MRSA afflicts mainly older patients, particularly those with chronic illnesses, including chronic wounds. It typically causes wound infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bacteremia.
Besides these epidemiologic and clinical differences, many CA-MRSA isolates derive from a single clone, known as clone USA 300, whereas HCA-MRSA is composed of multiple non-USA 300 clones. Finally, many CA-MRSA isolates are sensitive to non-β
lactam antibiotics, whereas most HCA-MRSA isolates resist multiple antibiotics. More recently, the distinction between CA-MRSA and HCA-MRSA has been blurred as evidence emerges that CA-MRSA now is being transmitted in healthcare settings as well as in the community.

S. aureus carrier state

Staphylococci are frequent colonizers of humans. Common colonization sites include the skin, anterior nares, axillae, and inguinal regions. Individuals can be colonized continuously or transiently, with nasal carriage rates varying from 20% to 40%. Most S. aureus infections result from the strain carried by the infected patient.
Three patterns of S. aureus carriage exist in humans:
• 20% of individuals are continuously colonized.
• 30% of individuals are intermittently colonized.
• 50% of individuals are never colonized.

The highest carriage rates occur in patients receiving frequent injections (such as insulin-dependent diabetics, hemodialysis patients, and I.V. drug users) and those with chronic skin conditions (for instance, psoriasis or eczema). In the general population, MRSA carriage rates have increased to 1% or 2%, with clinical consequences hinging on the colonizing strain (CA-MRSA versus HCA-MRSA) and host characteristics. The most consistent carriage site is the anterior nares, but many other sites may carry this pathogen, including the axillae, inguinal regions, and perirectal area.

MRSA treatment

Therapy for MRSA infection depends on the infection location and antibiotic sensitivity of the infecting strain.
Cutaneous abscesses are treated by incision and drainage; antibiotics play a secondary role to adequate drainage.
• Therapy for necrotizing fasciitis caused by MRSA involves aggressive debridement with removal of all necrotic tissue, plus adequate antibiotic therapy. Typically, patients require serial debridement followed by subsequent careful wound care, often with eventual skin grafting.
Pyomyositis  treatment entails drainage of the muscle abscess (which sometimes can be done with percutaneous tube placement instead of open drain­age), plus appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Vancomycin has been the mainstay of I.V. therapy for MRSA for decades, but some clinicians are concerned that its effectiveness may be declining due to slowly increasing minimum inhibitory concentrations (the minimum concentration of an
antibiotic needed to inhibit pathogen growth). Other parenteral options have emerged in the last few years. (See I.V. drugs used to treat MRSA by clicking the PDF icon above.) Several oral antibiotics also are available for MRSA treatment. (See Oral agents used to treat MRSA by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Knowing the antibiotic sensitivity pattern of the infecting MRSA strain is crucial to ensuring that the patient receives an appropriate antibiotic. Treatment duration for soft-
tissue infections usually ranges from 7 to 14 days, but bacteremia and bone or joint infections call for more prolonged therapy.

Efforts to eradicate MRSA carriage

Because the carrier state increases the risk of subsequent S. aureus infection, efforts have been made to eradicate carriage. Unfortunately, this has proven to be difficult. A commonly used regimen involves 5 days of twice-daily mupirocin nasal ointment with either chlorhexidine gluconate showers or immersion up to the neck in a dilute bleach solution. However, success in eliminating carriage is limited, although the bleach bath seems to improve eradication rates better than other modalities.

Controlling MRSA in hospitals

How best to control MRSA spread within hospitals is controversial. Some experts advocate an aggressive, “search and destroy” approach involving screening all patients for nasal carriage on admission and initiating contact precautions with subsequent decolonization efforts. Others focus on improving the overall level of hand hygiene and other general infection-control measures, arguing that nasal screening misses at least 20% of MRSA-colonized patients and thus gives an unwarranted sense of security.
Many hospitals use a mixed approach, screening patients suspected to be at high risk for MRSA carriage (such as those admitted from extended-care facilities or to the intensive care unit), while simultaneously trying to improve hand hygiene and general infection-control measures. Recent data suggest MRSA colonization and infection rates have stopped increasing and are beginning to decline.
MRSA is one of the most problematic pathogens encountered on a regular basis, and among the most dangerous pathogens we face. While some MRSA infections are relatively mild, many are serious or life-threatening. Severe soft-tissue infections, such as necrotizing fasciitis and pyomyositis, require surgical debridement or drainage, appropriate antibiotic therapy, and assistance from a wound-care professional to achieve optimal outcomes. n

Selected references
Calfee DP. The epidemiology, treatment and prevention of transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. J Infus Nurs. 2011 Nov-Dec;34(6):359-64.

DeLeo FR, Otto M, Kreiswirth BN, Chambers HF. Community-associated meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Lancet. 2010 May 1;375(9725): 1557-68.

Dryden MS. Complicated skin and soft tissue infection. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2010 Nov;65 Suppl 3:iii35-44.

Ippolito G, Leone S, Lauria FN, et al. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: the superbug. Int J Infect Dis. 2010 Oct;14 Suppl 4:S7-11.

Landrum ML, Neumann C, Cook C, et al. Epidemiology of Staphylococcus aureus blood and skin and soft tissue infections in the US military health system, 2005-2010. JAMA. July 4;308:50-9.

Lee AS, Huttner B, Harbarth S. Control of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2011 Mar;25(1):155-79.

Moellering RC Jr. MRSA: the first half century. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2012 Jan;67(1):4-11.

Otter JA, French GL. Community-associated meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains as a cause of healthcare-associated infection. J Hosp Infect. 2011 Nov:79(3):189-93.

Rivera AM, Boucher HW. Current concepts in antimicrobial therapy against select gram-positive organisms: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, penicillin-resistant pneumococci, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011 Dec;86(12):1230-43.

Simor AE. Staphylococcal decolonization: an effective strategy for prevention of infection? Lancet Infect Dis. 2011 Dec;11(12):952-62.

Joseph G. Garner is director of the infectious disease division and hospital epidemiologist at the Hospital of Central Connecticut and a professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut.

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From the Editor

The pros and cons of formularies

In health care, we frequently use the terms formulary and protocol interchangeably even though they have different meanings. A formulary is an official list of available dressings, products, and medications. A protocol is a roadmap or guideline on how to use the formulary.

Formularies became popular several years ago when reimbursement changed to bundling and wound-product costs were included in the routine cost of care rather than separately billable. In an effort to control costs, hospitals, home health agencies, and long-term care facilities began exclusive partner agreements with supply and buying groups. (“You use our products exclusively and we’ll give you a huge discount on cost.”)

A good formulary not only can help save money. It can also assist in streamlining care delivery, reducing waste, and directing treatment decisions. But on the flip side, using formularies can have disastrous results. I realized this last week while speaking on the phone with a wound clinician who’d called to ask for wound treatment ideas for a hospice patient. As she described the situation, it became apparent that the patient’s symptoms definitely pointed to high levels of bacteria in the wound. As I began sharing recommendations for treatment ideas, she kept responding: “Nope. Can’t use that, not on our formulary.” “Nope, not on formulary.” The only options available on her hospice formulary were hydrocolloid, hydrogel, or foam dressings, none of which had antibacterial properties.

Providing an appropriate standard of care shouldn’t be dictated by a formulary, and choosing substandard care just because the patient is in hospice isn’t acceptable or appropriate. Evidence-based guidelines, wound characteristics, underlying complications, and patient care goals should dictate management and treatment.

To ensure your formulary is adequate, determine if it includes a variety of product categories, and negotiate the ability to go off formulary if needed. Although cost control is essential, clinicians need access to products and therapies that yield positive outcomes. One size doesn’t fit all in wound care.

Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS, DWC, OMS
Wound Care Advisor
Cofounder, Wound Care Education Institute
Plainfield, Illinois

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How to write effective wound care orders

By Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS, DWC, OMS

Writing effective orders for wound care is vital to ensure patients receive the right care at the right time, to protect yourself from possible litigation, and to facilitate appropriate reimbursement for clinicians and organizations.
Below are some overall strategies you can use:

  • Avoid “blanket” orders, for example, “continue previous treatment” or “resume treatment at home.” These types of general orders lack the specificity clinicians require to deliver care the patient needs and can be easily misinterpreted. For instance, treatments can change multiple times, and someone could pick a treatment from an incorrect date. (more…)
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