Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice.
Medical gauze, a bleached white cloth or fabric used in bandages, dressings, and surgical sponges, is the most widely used wound care dressing. Commonly known as “4×4s,” gauze is made from fibers of cotton, rayon, polyester, or a combination of these fibers. Surgical gauze must meet standards of purity, thread count, construction, and sterility according to the United States Pharmacopeia. (more…)
A pressure ulcer that a patient acquires in your facility or a patient’s existing pressure ulcer that worsens puts your organization at risk for regulatory citations as well as litigation. Unless you can prove the pressure ulcer was unavoidable, you could find yourself burdened with citations or fines, or could even end up in court.
In 2010, the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) hosted a multidisciplinary conference to establish a consensus on whether all pressure ulcers are avoidable.
Hospital pressure-ulcer comparison data not accurate Performance scores for rates of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers might not be appropriate for comparing hospitals, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “Hospital report cards for hospital-acquired pressure ulcers: How good are the grades?,” funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, analyzed 2 million all-payer administrative records from 448…
A variety of resources to end the year and take you into 2014. On the road again Give your patients with an ostomy this information from the Transportation Security Administration to help them navigate airport screening: • You can be screened without having to empty or expose your ostomy, but you need to let the officer conducting the screening know…
By Nancy Collins, PhD, RD, LD/N, FAPWCA, and Allison Schnitzer Nutrition is a critical factor in the wound healing process, with adequate protein intake essential to the successful healing of a wound. Patients with both chronic and acute wounds, such as postsurgical wounds or pressure ulcers, require an increased amount of protein to ensure complete and timely healing of their…
By Jeri Lundgren, BSN, RN, PHN, CWS, CWCN A pressure ulcer that a patient acquires in your facility or a patient’s existing pressure ulcer that worsens puts your organization at risk for regulatory citations as well as litigation. Unless you can prove the pressure ulcer was unavoidable, you could find yourself burdened with citations or fines, or could even end…
By Kathleen D. Pagana, PhD, RN Are you making connections that benefit your career? Are you comfortable starting a conversation at a networking session? Do you know how to exit a conversation gracefully when it’s time to move on? These are questions and concerns many clinicians share. Career success takes more than clinical expertise, management savvy, and leadership skills. Networking…
By Connie Johnson, BSN, RN, WCC, LLE, OMS, DAPWCA No matter where you work or who your distributors are, ensuring the patient has sufficient ostomy supplies can be a challenge. Whether you’re the nurse, the physician, the patient, or the family, not having supplies for treatments can heighten frustration with an already challenging situation, such as a new ostomy. Here’s…
by Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS, DWC, OMS With uncertainty over how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ultimately will affect operations, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are tightening up. In many areas, they’re laying off staff. In May, the healthcare industry lost 9,000 jobs—the worst month for the industry in a decade—and another 4,000 jobs were lost in July.…
Dermatologic difficulties: Skin problems in patients with chronic venous insufficiency and phlebolymphedema By Nancy Chatham, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, CWOCN, CWS; Lori Thomas, MS, OTR/L, CLT-LANA; and Michael Molyneaux, MD Skin problems associated with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) and phlebolymphedema are common and often difficult to treat. The CVI cycle of skin and soft tissue injury from chronic disease processes can…
By Robyn Bjork, MPT, WCC, CWS, CLT-LANA Margery Smith, age 82, arrives at your wound clinic for treatment of a shallow, painful ulcer on the lateral aspect of her right lower leg. On examination, you notice weeping and redness of both lower legs, 3+ pitting edema, several blisters, and considerable denudement of the periwound skin. She is wearing tennis shoes…
By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice. Description Hydrated polymer (hydrogel) dressings, originally developed in the 1950s, contain 90% water in a gel base, which helps regulate fluid exchange from the wound surface. Hydrogel dressing are usually clear or translucent and vary…
Navigating through the thousands of wound care products can be overwhelming and confusing. I suspect that if you checked your supply rooms and treatment carts today, you would find stacks of unused products. You also would probably find that many products were past their expiration dates and that you have duplicate products in the same category, but with different brand names. Many clinicians order a product by brand name, not realizing that plenty of the product is already in stock under a different brand name. (more…)
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 Drugs.com 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.
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.
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
Editor-in-Chief Wound Care Advisor
Cofounder, Wound Care Education Institute
Wound pain can have a profound effect on a person’s life and is one of the most devastating aspects of living with a wound. In addition to pharmaceutical options, wound care clinicians should consider other key aspects of care that can alleviate pain. Here is a checklist to ensure you are thorough in your assessment. (more…)
Complex wound failures are costly and time-consuming. They increase length of stay and contribute to morbidity and mortality in surgical patients. Negative-pressure wound therapy (NPWT)—a common adjunct to wound-care therapy—is used to accelerate wound healing in all fields of surgery. Using a vacuum device and wound-packing material, it applies subatmospheric pressure to complex wounds.
But NPWT alone doesn’t ensure adequate wound healing. Many physiologic factors—including infection, excessive moisture, nutrition, and medications—influence wound-healing success. Failure to account for these factors or improper application of NPWT can limit patient outcomes and cause debilitating complications.
For clinicians, applying and establishing an airtight seal on a complex wound is among the most dreaded, time-consuming, and challenging NPWT-related tasks. Simply applying NPWT material under layers of transparent drape may delay wound healing or exacerbate the wound. This article provides tips on safe application of NPWT to enhance the outcomes of patients with complex wounds.
Consider wound location
Wounds on the body’s anterior surfaces are less susceptible to the forces of pressure, friction, and shear than those on posterior and lateral surfaces. Posterior and lateral wounds commonly require posterior offloading or repositioning the patient in bed to reduce or eliminate direct pressure. This can be done with judicious and frequent patient turning using a specialty bed or support surface.
Bridge a posterior or lateral wound to an anterior surface by placing the drainage collection tubing to a nonpressure-bearing surface away from the wound. Bridging keeps the tubing from exerting pressure on intact skin and decreases the risk of a pressure ulcer. To create the bridge, cut foam into a single spiral of 0.5 to 1 cm, or if using gauze, fold gauze into 8 single layers.
Place the spiraled foam or gauze layers onto the drape, ensure the bridge is wider than the collection tubing disc, and secure it with an additional drape. Next, apply the NPWT collection tubing on the end of the bridge away from the wound. A wide bridge under the collection tubing disc will minimize the potential for periwound breakdown when negative pressure is initiated. You may modify this spiraling technique by varying the width of the foam to fill undermining and wounds of irregular configuration and depth.
Protect the periwound
An intact periwound may break down from exposure to moisture, injury from repetitive removal of a transparent drape, or NPWT material coming in contact with skin. Skin protection is critical in preventing additional breakdown stemming from contact with potentially damaging material.
Transparent drapes are designed to permit transmission of moisture vapor and oxygen. Avoid using multiple layers of transparent drapes to secure dressings over intact skin, as this can decrease the transmission of moisture vapor and oxygen, which in turn may increase the risk of fungal infection, maceration, and loss of an intact seal.
Periwound maceration also may indicate increased wound exudate, requiring an increase in negative pressure. Conversely, an ecchymotic periwound may indicate excessively high negative pressures. If either occurs, assess the need to adjust negative pressure and intervene accordingly. Reassess NPWT effectiveness with subsequent dressing changes.
Apply a protective liquid skin barrier to the periwound and adjacent healthy tissue to help protect the skin surface from body fluids. The skin barrier also helps prevent stripping of fragile skin by minimizing shear forces from repetitive or forceful removal of transparent drapes. Excessive moisture can be absorbed by using a light dusting of ostomy powder sealed with a skin barrier. A “window pane” of transparent drape or hydrocolloid dressing around the wound also can protect surface tissue from contactwith NPWT material and prevent maceration.
Avoid creating rolled wound edges
In the best-case scenario, epithelial tissue at the wound edge is attached to the wound bed and migrates across healthy granulation tissue, causing the wound to contract and finally close. With deep wound environments that lack moisture or healthy granulation tissue, the wound edges may roll downward and epibole may develop. Epibole is premature closure of the wound edges, which prevents epithelialization and wound closure when it comes in contact with a deeper wound bed. (See Picturing epibole by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Materials used in NPWT are primarily air-filled. Applying negative pressure causes air removal, leading to wound contraction by pulling on the wound edges—an action called macrostrain. Without sufficient NPWT material in the wound, macrostrain can cause the wound to contract downward and the wound edges to roll.
Ensure that enough NPWT material has been applied into the wound to enhance wound-edge approximation and avoid creating a potential defect as the wound heals. Before NPWT begins, material should be raised 1 to 2 cm above the intact skin. Additional material may be needed with subsequent changes if the NPWT material compresses below the periwound. The amount of NPWT material needed to remain above the periwound once NPWT starts varies with the amount of material compressed and the wound depth.
Reduce the infection risk
To some degree, all wounds are contaminated. Usually, the body’s immunologic response is able to clear bacterial organisms and wound healing isn’t delayed. But a patient who has an infection of a complex wound needs additional support.
Systemic antibiotics alone aren’t enough because they’re selective for specific organisms and don’t reach therapeutic levels in the wound bed. In contrast, topical antimicrobial adjuncts, such as controlled-release ionic silver, provide broad-spectrum antimicrobial coverage against fungi, viruses, yeasts, and gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
Consider using controlled-release ionic silver for a wound known to be infected or at risk for infection due to its location or potential urine or fecal contamination. To be bactericidal, ionic silver must be in concentrations of at least 20 parts per million; also, it must be kept moist and must come in direct contact with infected wound bed. At lower concentrations, organisms may develop resistance. Ionic silver has no known resistance or contraindications. Dressings using it come in several forms, including a hydrogel sheet, perforated sheet, cavity version, and semiliquid hydrogel. Be sure the form you choose doesn’t occlude the NPWT material and compromise therapy. (See NPWT for a patient with necrotizing fasciitis by clicking the PDF icon above.)
One of the most daunting aspects of NPWT is obtaining and maintaining a good seal—in other words, avoiding the dreaded leak. Preventive skin measures may contribute to a poor seal; skin-care products containing glycerin, surfactant, or dimethicone may prevent adequate adhesion of NPWT drapes. Body oil, sweat, and hair may need to be minimized or removed.
To avoid leaks, don’t overlook the obvious—loose connections, a loose drainage collection canister, exposed NPWT material, and skinfolds extending beyond the transparent drape. Tincture of benzoin (with or without a thin hydrocolloid dressing) increases tackiness to enhance the adhesive property of a transparent drape on the diaphoretic patient and on hard-to-drape areas, such as the perineum. But be sure to use tincture of benzoin with discretion, as it may remove fragile periwound tissue when the dressing is removed.
Ostomy paste products can serve as effective filler. These pliable products can be spread into position to obtain a secure seal under the transparent drape in hard-to-seal areas, such as the perineum. Pastes remain flexible and can be removed without residue. Temporarily increasing NPWT pressure to a higher setting may help locate a subtle leak or provide enough negative pressure to self-seal the leak. Once the leak resolves, remember to return the pressure to the ordered setting.
Knowledge optimizes healing
It’s important to be aware of potential complications of NPWT (See Take care with NPWT by clicking on the PDF icon above). However, when applied correctly, NPWT is an effective option for managing complex wounds. Recognizing and managing potential complications at the wound site, ensuring periwound protection, minimizing epibole formation, and preventing wound infection can result in a better-prepared wound bed and promote optimal healing.
Wound care has come a long way in just a few decades. With our expanded knowledge of wound healing and recent advances in treatment, we’re now able to assess wounds more accurately, recognize wound-related problems sooner, provide better interventions, and reduce morbidity.
To bring you up to date on current evidence-based wound management, this article focuses on assessing patients with chronic wounds, optimizing wound healing with effective wound-bed preparation, and selecting an appropriate dressing.
Wound chronicity and cause
Developing an appropriate plan of care hinges on conducting a thorough, accurate evaluation of both the patient and the wound. The first step is to determine whether the wound is acute or chronic.
• A chronic wound is one that fails to heal within a reasonable time—usually
• An acute wound heals more quickly, causing minimal functional loss in the part of the body with the wound.
Identifying the cause of the wound also is essential. If the wound etiology is unknown, explore the patient’s medical history (including medication history) for clues to possible causes. Also review the patient’s history for conditions that could impede wound healing. (See What factors hamper healing? by clicking the PDF icon above)
Other important aspects of assessment include evaluating the patient’s nutritional status, quantifying the level of pain (if present), and gauging the patient’s self-care abilities.
General physical appearance
Conduct a general head-to-toe physical examination, focusing on the patient’s height, weight, and skin characteristics.
Height, weight, and weight trend
On admission, the patient’s height and weight should be measured to ensure appropriate nutritional and pharmacologic management. After a weight gain or loss, various factors may complicate wound healing. For instance, involuntary weight loss and protein-energy malnutrition may occur in both acute-care and long-term-care patients.
Especially note trends in your patient’s weight. For a long-term-care patient, a 5% weight loss over 30 days or a 10% loss over 180 days is considered involuntary. Arrange for a nutritional consult for any patient with an involuntary weight loss, as adequate nutrition is essential for general well-being and wound healing. (See A wound on the mend by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Evaluate the patient’s skin color in light of ethnic background. If you note erythema—especially on a pressure point over a bony prominence—examine this area carefully for nonblanching erythema. Keep in mind that darkly pigmented skin doesn’t show such erythema and subsequent blanching, yet the patient may still be in jeopardy. So in dark-skinned patients, check for differences in skin color, temperature, or firmness compared to adjacent tissue; these differences may signify skin compromise.
Skin texture and turgor
Generally, healthy skin feels smooth and firm and has an even surface and good turgor (elasticity). To test turgor, gently grasp and pull up a fold of skin on a site such as the anterior chest below the clavicle. Does the skin return to place almost immediately after you release it, or does it stand up (“tent”)? Tenting indicates dehydration. But keep in mind that skin loses elasticity with age, so elderly patients normally have decreased turgor.
With normal circulatory status, the skin is warm and its temperature is similar bilaterally. Areas of increased warmth or coolness suggest infection or compromised circulation. Be sure to check the temperature of skin surrounding the wound.
Proper wound assessment can significantly influence patient outcome. Measure the wound carefully and document the condition of the wound bed. Remember that accurate descriptions are essential for guiding ongoing wound care. Repeat wound measurement and wound-bed assessment at least weekly, after the wound bed has been cleaned and debrided.
Keep in mind that assessing a chronic wound can be challenging. Wounds commonly have irregular shapes that can change quickly. Also, the multiple clinicians caring for the same patient may each describe the wound a bit differently.
Note the precise anatomic location of the wound, as this can influence the wound care plan. A venous ulcer on the lower leg, for instance, requires different care than an arterial ulcer in the same site or a pressure ulcer on the ischium.
Circumference and depth
Use a paper or plastic measuring device to measure wound circumference and depth in centimeters (cm) or millimeters (mm). To promote accurate assessment of healing, be sure to use the same reference points each time you measure the wound.
You can use several methods to measure circumference. The most commonly used method of measurement is done in the head to toe direction. Measure the wound at its greatest length in that direction & measure the width at a 90 degree angle, at the widest point of the wound. Then multiply these two measurements (greatest length x greatest width) to obtain the total wound area. Although such linear measurements are imprecise, they yield gross information relative to wound healing when repeated over time.
Classify wound depth as partial thickness or full thickness.
• Partial-thickness wounds are limited to the skin layers and don’t penetrate the dermis. They usually heal by reepithelialization, in which epidermal cells regenerate and cover the wound. Abrasions, lacerations, and blisters are examples of partial-thickness wounds.
• Full-thickness wounds involve tissue loss below the dermis.
(Note: Pressure ulcers usually are classified by a four-stage system and diabetic foot ulcers by a grading system. Both systems are beyond this article’s scope.)
Measure and record wound depth based on the deepest area of tissue loss. To measure depth, gently place an appropriate device (such as a foam-tipped applicator) vertically in the deepest part of the wound, and mark the applicator at the patient’s skin level. Then measure from the end of the applicator to the mark to obtain depth.
Surrounding skin and tissue
Inspect for and document any erythema, edema, or ecchymosis within 4 cm of the wound edges, and reevaluate for these signs frequently. Because compromised skin near the wound is at risk for breakdown, preventive measures may be necessary.
Appearance of wound-bed tissue
Document viable tissue in the wound bed as granulation, epithelial, muscle, or subcutaneous tissue. Granulation tissue is connective tissue containing multiple small blood vessels, which aid rapid healing of the wound bed; appearing red or pink, it commonly looks shiny and granular. Epithelial tissue consists of regenerated epidermal cells across the wound bed; it may be shiny and silvery.
Check for nonviable tissue (also called necrotic, slough, or fibrin slough tissue), which may impede wound healing. It may vary in color from black or tan to yellow, and may adhere firmly or loosely to the wound bed. (See Picturing a necrotic wound by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Be sure to document the range of colors visible throughout the wound. Identify the color that covers the largest percentage of the wound bed. This color—and its significance—guide dressing selection.
Document the amount, color, and odor of exudate (drainage) in the wound. Exudate with high protease levels and low growth factor levels may impede healing.
If the wound is covered by an occlusive dressing, assess exudate after the wound has been cleaned. Describe the amount of exudate as none, minimal, moderate, or heavy.
Describe exudate color as serous, serosanguineous, sanguineous, or purulent. Serous exudate is clear and watery, with no debris or blood present. Serosanguineous exudate is clear, watery, and tinged pink or pale red, denoting presence of blood. Sanguineous exudate is bloody, indicating active bleeding. Purulent exudate may range from yellow to green to brown or tan.
Describe wound odor as absent, faint, moderate, or strong. Note whether the odor is present only during dressing removal, if it disappears after the dressing is discarded, or if it permeates the room.
Wound edges indicate the epithelialization trend and suggest the possible cause and chronicity of the wound. The edges should attach to the wound bed. Edges that are rolled (a condition called epibole) indicate a chronic wound, in which epithelial cells are unable to adhere to a moist, healthy wound bed and can’t migrate across and resurface the wound.
Undermining and tracts
Gently probe around the wound edges and in the wound bed to check for undermining and tracts. Undermining, which may occur around the edges, presents as a space between the intact skin and wound bed (resembling a roof over part of the wound). It commonly results from shear forces in conjunction with sustained pressure. A tract, or tunnel, is a channel extending from one part of the wound through subcutaneous tissue or muscle to another part.
Measure the depth of a tract or undermining by inserting an appropriate device into the wound as far as it will go without forcing it. Then mark the skin on the outside where you can see or feel the applicator tip. Document your findings based on a clock face, with 12 o’clock representing the patient’s head and 6 o’clock denoting the feet. For instance, you might note “2.0-cm undermining from 7:00 to 9:00 position.”
Ask the patient to quantify the level of pain caused by the wound, using the pain scale designated by your facility. Find out which pain-management techniques have relieved your patient’s pain in the past; as appropriate, incorporate these into a pain-management plan. Reevaluate the patient’s pain level regularly.
An evolving science, wound-bed preparation is crucial for minimizing or removing barriers to healing. The goal is to minimize factors that impair healing and maximize the effects of wound care. The key elements of wound-bed preparation are controlling bioburden and maintaining moisture balance. (For online resources on wound-bed preparation and other wound-care topics, see Where to get more information by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Necrotic tissue and exudate harbor bacteria. A wound’s bioburden—the number of contaminating microbes—contributes to poor healing. All chronic wounds are considered contaminated or colonized, but not necessarily infected. In a colonized wound, healing is impeded as bacteria compete for nutrients; also, bacteria have harmful byproducts. To control bioburden, the wound must be cleaned and necrotic tissue must be debrided.
Cleaning the wound. Clean the wound before assessing it and applying a dressing. Use a noncytotoxic agent (typically, potable water, normal saline irrigating solution, or an appropriate wound-cleaning agent). Antiseptic solutions generally aren’t recommended for wound irrigation or dressings because they’re toxic to fibroblasts and other wound-repairing cells. If you must use such a solution, make sure it’s well diluted.
To ensure gentle cleaning or irrigation, pour solution over the wound bed or gently flush the wound with solution (using a 60-mL catheter-tip syringe) until the drainage clears. Know that pressurized irrigation techniques and whirlpool therapy aren’t recommended for wound cleaning because they disturb cell proliferation in the wound bed.
Debriding the wound. Debridement removes slough and necrotic tissue. Nonselective debridement techniques remove any type of tissue within the wound bed, whereas selective methods remove only necrotic tissue. (See Wound debridement techniques by clicking the PDF icon below.)
Maintaining moisture balance
To maintain moisture balance in the wound bed, you must manage exudate and keep the wound bed moist. The proper dressing (which may stay in place for days or longer) supports moist wound healing and exudate management. To minimize fluid pooling, a drain may be inserted into the wound. Negative-pressure wound therapy also may aid removal of excess exudate.
Choosing an appropriate dressing
The wound dressing plays a major role in maintaining moisture balance. Dressing selection is challenging because of the large number and variety of dressings available. Each product has specific actions, benefits, and drawbacks, so determining which dressing best suits the patient’s needs is a multifaceted process.
Dressing choice depends on such factors as wound type and appearance, exudate, presence or absence of pain, and required dressing change frequency. (See Dressings Options by clicking the PDF icon above.)
In a traditional dressing, gauze is applied in layers. The initial (contact) layer in the wound bed absorbs drainage and wicks it to the next layer; most often, this layer consists of woven cotton gauze or synthetic gauze. Remove the gauze gently, because it may be stuck to the wound or incision (especially if the gauze is cotton). For easier removal, moisten the dressing with normal saline solution to loosen it.
With a traditional dressing, the cover layer or secondary dressing is an abdominal pad with a “no-strike-through” layer next to the outside of the dressing. Be aware that wet-to-dry dressings are highly discouraged for their nonselective debriding effect and inability to provide a moist wound bed.
Reassess the patient’s wound at least weekly (after preparing the wound bed and dressing the wound) to determine healing progress. Keep in mind that wound-care management is a collaborative effort. Once you’ve assessed the patient, discuss your findings and subsequent wound management with other members of the team.
Wound care wisdom
Getting wiser about wound care will help your patients achieve good outcomes. Poor wound healing can be frustrating to patients, family members, and healthcare providers alike. Chronic wounds may necessitate lifestyle changes and lead to severe physical consequences ranging from infection to loss of function and even death. By performing careful assessment, tailoring patients’ wound care to wound etiology, and using evidence-based protocols to manage wounds, you can promote speedier wound healing, help lower morbidity, and improve quality of life.
Bryant RA, Nix DP. Acute and Chronic Wounds: Current Management Concepts. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2011.
Gardener SE, Frantz R, Hillis SL, Park H, Scherubel M. Diagnostic validity of semiquantitative swab cultures. Wounds. 2007;(19)2:31-38.
Krasner DL, Rodeheaver GT, Sibbald RG. Chronic Wound Care: A Clinical Source Book for Healthcare Professionals. 4th ed. Wayne, PA: HMP Communications; 2007.
Langemo DK, Brown G. Skin fails too: acute, chronic, and end-stage skin failure. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2006;19(4):206-211.
Langemo DK, Anderson J, Hanson D, Hunter S, Thompson P. Measuring wound length, width, and area: which technique? Adv Skin Wound Care. 2008;21:42-45.
Milne C, Armand OC, Lassie M. A comparison of collagenase to hydrogel dressings in wound debridement. Wounds. 2010:22(11):270-274.
National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Prevention and Treatment of Pressure Ulcers: Clinical Practice Guideline. Washington, DC: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel; 2009.
Ovington LG. Hanging wet-to-dry dressings out to dry. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2002;15(2):79-86.
Sibbald RG, Coutts P, Woo KY. Reduction of bacterial burden and pain in chronic wounds using a new polyhexamethylene biguanide antimicrobial foam dressing—clinical trial results. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2011;24(2):78-84.
Solway DR, Consalter M, Levinson DJ. Microbial cellulose wound dressing in the treatment of skin tears in the frail elderly. Wounds. 2010:22(1):17-19.
Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society. Guideline for Prevention and Management of Pressure Ulcers. Mt. Laurel, NJ: Author; 2010
Patricia A. Slachta is a Clinical Nurse Specialist at The Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and an adjunct nursing instructor at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, South Carolina.