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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