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“But I left voice messages and a note…”

By Nancy J. Brent, MS, RN, JD

Often nurses get named in a lawsuit when they are involved in clearly negligent conduct that causes an injury to or the death of a patient. Examples include administering the wrong medication to the wrong patient or not positioning a patient correctly in the operative suite prior to surgery. Sometimes, however, the negligent behavior of a nurse is not as clear to the nurse involved in the care of the patient.
That was apparently the circumstance in the reported case, Olsten Health Services, Inc v. Cody.¹ In September 2000, Mr. Cody was the victim of a crime that resulted in paraplegia. He was admitted to a rehabilitation center and discharged on November 15, 2000. His physician ordered daily home health care services in order to monitor his “almost healed” Stage 2 pressure ulcer.² The home health care agency assigned a registered nurse (RN) to Mr. Cody and, after Mr. Cody’s healthcare insurance company would not approve daily visits, a reduced visit plan was approved by Mr. Cody’s physician.

A progressive problem

On November 16, 2000, the nurse visited Mr. Cody for the first time. During that visit, she did an admission assessment and noted that the pressure ulcer, located at the area
of the tailbone, measured 5 cm by 0.4 cm wide and 0.2 cm deep. She believed the pressure ulcer could be completely healed within 3 weeks. The nurse called Mr. Cody’s physician and left him a voice message concerning her visit and her findings.
On November 19, a second visit took place and the nurse observed and documented that Mr. Cody’s pressure ulcer was “100%” pink and no odor was detected.
On November 20, she attempted another visit but did not see Mr. Cody because the front gate surrounding his home was locked. The nurse buzzed the gate doorbell several times to no avail. She left a note on the front gate for the Cody family and left a voice message for Mr. Cody’s physician.

The next visit took place on November 21. The pressure ulcer was now only “90% pink” and had a “fetid” odor; this condition did not improve over the next 24 hours. The nurse documented this fact in her nurses’ notes. Again, she left a voice mail message for the physician concerning these findings.

The nurse could not get into the house on November 23, the next scheduled visit, so she again left a note on the house gate and left a voice mail message for the physician.
On November 24, the home health care nurse saw Mr. Cody and observed the pressure ulcer to be “90% pink” but the “fetid” odor was still present. In addition, Mr. Cody’s right lower extremity was swollen. She was concerned that the wound care that was to be done by the family or the health aide was not being done. Even so, she did not contact Mr. Cody’s physician or the patient again until November 27.

Mr. Cody’s pressure ulcer on November 27 had no odor but the home health aide who was also caring for Mr. Cody told the nurse that he was “very cold and having chills.” The nurse did not document this reported observation in her nurses’ notes.
Attempts to visit Mr. Cody on November 28 and 29 were again unsuccessful because of the locked gate at the front of the house. No one answered the buzzer, either. The nurse left another note on the house gate and left a voice mail message for the physician.

When the nurse saw Mr. Cody on November 30, she observed that the ulcer had “serious changes”: an increase in the serous drainage from the wound; the wound had a “fetid” odor; 80% of the wound was necrotic; the necrotic tissue was “undermined”; and the wound was significantly larger—9 cm by 8 cm wide and 1 cm deep.3 She left a voice mail message for Mr. Cody’s physician, but did not alter her visits to Mr. Cody’s home or attempt to see him over the next 2 days.

Admission to hospital

When the nurse did visit Mr. Cody on December 1, the pressure ulcer consisted of 40% necrotic tissue. She then told the family to take Mr. Cody to the physician’s office. Later that same day he was admitted to the hospital with a Stage 4 pressure ulcer that reached his tailbone. After 3 weeks of treatment, the ulcer measured 20 cm by 30 cm.

Mr. Cody endured many procedures during the following years to treat his
ulcer, but it never really healed. A “flap” enclosure was done to try to cover the wound.


Mr. Cody sued the home health care company, alleging that the employees breached the standard of care by failing to appropriately diagnose and treat/or to prevent the formation or aggravation of pressure ulcers, resulting in severe and significant injury to him.


The Florida Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s verdict in favor of Mr. Cody—a $3,050,000 verdict in economic damages4—on several legal bases, the most important for the purposes of this article being that the home health care agency and its employees were negligent in the care of Mr. Cody.

Key testimony

Key testimony in reaching this verdict came from the expert testimony of an RN and certified wound care expert. The nurse expert testified unequivocally that the home health care nurse breached the standard of nursing care. She said that not contacting the physician personally about Mr. Cody’s condition and the family being overwhelmed about his condition, but instead leaving voice mail messages on an answering machine, did not meet the standard of nursing care in this situation.
Additionally, the nurse expert testified that the nurse caring for Mr. Cody failed to recognize the symptoms of his deteriorating condition and did not intervene when necessary to avoid the infection he suffered from the deteriorating wound, and that her failure to do so resulted in the development of the Stage 4 ulcer that never healed.

Take-away points

So, what does this case tell you as a wound care professional caring for someone who has a pressure ulcer?

  • Meet the standard of care. You must always meet the standard of care when caring for a patient. That means your care must be what other ordinary, reasonable, and prudent nurses caring for a patient with a decubitus ulcer would do in the same or similar circumstances in the same or similar community. Clearly, the nurse did not meet this standard in her care of Mr. Cody.
  • Document accurately and completely. Remember that the nurse did not document Mr. Cody’s condition when the home health aide reported it to her. This omission may not only have compromised Mr. Cody’s care. If the communication during the trial became an “I told her”/”I don’t remember being told” debate when each party testified about the communication, it surely caused a rift between the aide and the nurse during the trial proceedings. Such a disagreement between defendant employees always helps a plaintiff’s case.
  • Know that photographs can be used in court. This case used a specific form of evidence, demonstrative evidence: photographs taken of the pressure ulcer, which were admitted into evidence during the trial. The photographs were testified to by the wound care expert. In addition to her testimony, this evidence further showed the “natural and continual progression” of the ulcer as it existed on December 1, 2000.
  • Understand the importance of expert testimony. In professional negligence cases, expert testimony is essential to establish the standard of care and to provide an opinion as to whether the standard of care was met or breached, the breach of which led to the injury to the patient. Typically, the attorney of a nurse cited in this type of case would want to use a certified wound care expert to support the care given. Apparently, the home care agency’s expert witness was not as convincing as the expert witness’s testimony for Mr. Cody.

Indeed, in this case, the expert witness’s testimony was invaluable and essentially secured a verdict for the plaintiff. Not only was the expert witness board certified but her testimony was credible, based on the evidence presented, and given after a careful review of Mr. Cody’s medical records, admission and discharge summaries from hospitals and health centers that provided care to Mr. Cody, the depositions of several doctors and nurses, and Mr. Cody’s deposition.

  • Know your limits. The nurse’s conduct also stresses the importance of another legal principle—knowing the limits of your abilities and capabilities. Nowhere in the reported opinion are the RN’s qualifications listed or a reason given as to why she was selected to care for Mr. Cody. It is assumed she was not certified. Even basic nursing guidelines for wound care and communication to the physician were not followed. Why, then, did she agree to take this assignment? She did so not only at her own folly but to the detriment of Mr. Cody.
  • Protect your patient. Last, and by no means least, this case stands for the principle that if you simply document something in the patient’s record that
    is important regarding the patient’s well-being and you just leave voice mail messages for a physician about that “something,” such conduct is not adequate. By simply leaving messages and notes, this RN violated an age-old principle in the law of professional negligence.5

Your duty in any situation in which the patient is at risk for a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm is to prevent that harm from happening insofar as humanly possible. What those specific steps might be will depend on the circumstances and your patient’s condition. Remember, liability is always fact-specific. Although legal principles exist, how each applies to a particular situation may vary.

Mr. Cody was clearly at risk for a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm—the further deterioration of his pressure ulcer. The nurse would only have had to intervene sooner by, for example (and as testified to by the expert witness), personally talking with his physician, visiting the patient more frequently when the deterioration began, contacting social services to help the family with its “overwhelmed” feelings, and following up with the home health aide’s observations of Mr. Cody.

Think about this, too: Nowhere in the court of appeals’ record was it indicated that Mr. Cody’s family or the physician ever received the notes or voice mail messages left by the nurse.6 At a minimum, wouldn’t you as the nurse want to follow up and check if those communications had been received?

1. Olsten Health Services, Inc. v. Cody, 979 So. 2d 1221 (FL District Ct of Appeals) 2008. (pages 1-8). Accessed June 22, 2012.

2. Id. at 1.

3. Id. at 4.

4. Id. at 2. The doctrine of comparative negligence was used in this case. This doctrine, adopted by most states, reduces a plaintiff’s recovery of money proportionally to the plaintiff’s degree of fault in causing the injury that is the basis of the suit (Blacks Law Dictionary, Second Pocket Edition, Bryan Garner, ed. St. Paul, MN: West; 2001). In this case, the home health care agency’s fault was attributed to be 70%. Mr. Cody’s degree of fault was assessed by the jury at 30%, most probably due to the inability of the home care nurse to be given access into the house on the days she visited and the family not providing the wound care required by Mr. Cody’s decubitus ulcer.

5. This age-old principle was established in a 1965 Illinois case, Darling v. Charleston Community Hospital, 211 N.E. 2d 353 (IL Supreme CT) 1965.

6. Tammelleo D. Treatment of decubitus ulcers botched: verdict for $3,050,000. Nurs Law Regan Rep. 2008;49(1):1.

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

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Learning to love your job

By Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN

The alarm clock goes off too early, and you jump-start the day with a cup of coffee and a short stack of reasons why you hate your job. Sound familiar? Although you can’t expect to love every aspect of your job, you should expect to get some degree of fulfillment from your career. If you don’t, maybe your job isn’t the problem. Maybe you just need a little career resuscitation to turn things around. First, let’s be clear. I’m not urging you to stay in a job that exposes you to unsafe conditions, a toxic environment, or a toxic boss. Call the code and get out, because emotional and physical well-being comes first. However, know that blaming our jobs for our dissatisfaction may be easier than taking a closer look at the chaos in our lives. It’s even easier not to fix what’s wrong, instead consoling ourselves with the company of like-suffering people. And misery does love company.

If you can’t have the job you love, love the job you have. The daily grind of Herculean demands can wear down even the most conscientious clinicians—to the point where we’re no longer seeking job satisfaction but struggling just to make it through the day. But you can turn things around. To enhance your job satisfaction, try these sure-fire methods. (Okay, maybe they’re not sure-fire, but they’re sure worth a try.)

Know when to say no

When your life feels out of balance, any demand will feel as if it’s sucking the living daylights out of you. You’ll be tempted to blame your job, when the truth is you’re giving in to a bottomless pit called “trying to please everyone else.” Learn to say no to the things you don’t want and say yes to more of what you do want. Say no to anything that’s not a priority (making cupcakes for the second-grade class). Say yes to quality time with your family and quality time for you (that painting class you’ve always wanted to take). Key question: How would the quality of your life improve if you started to say no to demands that don’t enhance its quality, and say yes to the things you want more of?

Learn to see the big picture again

Recognize that, in ways you can’t see or perhaps even imagine, you’ve forever touched and changed the lives of the patients you’ve cared for. The ability to touch and heal another person is a gift that’s available to few people in other professions, who struggle to find meaning in what they do. Key questions: In what ways have you helped your patients? What special qualities and skills are uniquely yours to give? How can you make the most of the opportunity to make a difference in patients’ lives?

Attract the positive

When we’re miserable, other miserable people gravitate to us. Soon a collective mindset takes root and the negative “group think” becomes a life-form unto
itself, festering and insatiable. So be careful of the company you keep. Surround yourself with positive people—clinicians committed to making a difference. This will reenergize you and give you a new perspective on your job.

Learn to be what you want

To be more passionate about your job,
focus on the aspects of the job that excite you the most. Passion is an energy form that attracts more of the same. Say, for instance, you’d love to buy a red convertible. One day you go out for a drive and you see red convertibles everywhere! Have more red convertibles suddenly driven off the assembly line? No; your mind is preselecting, or noticing the convertibles, for you. In the same way, you can preselect either more passion or more misery.

Pay it forward

Keep in mind that novice clinicians proceed through a learning curve. Rather than moan about how inexperienced they are, take one under your wing and turn her or him into the sort of clinician you’d want at your bedside if you were ill. You’ll rediscover your profession through this clinician’s eyes.

Communicate cleanly and ask for what you want

People can’t read your mind. To get more of what you want and less of what you don’t want, learn to communicate in a clean, neutral way. Let’s say you consistently wind up with the more difficult patient assignments. And let’s assume your boss does that because you’re the most clinically experienced clinician—not because she’s the devil incarnate. You can respond in one of two ways.

•    Gripe to a coworker: “Can you believe she gave me that workload again?”
•    Communicate with your boss cleanly and neutrally: “Lately it seems you’ve given me the more difficult patient assignments, and I appreciate your faith in me. Is there some way we can give other clinicians a chance to gain more experience caring for difficult patients? I’d be happy to act as a resource for them.”

See the difference? The first response does nothing to change the situation; it simply fuels the collective misery mindset. The second response communicates to the boss in a respectful, appreciative way (yes, bosses need appreciation, too!) and seeks a solution that pleases everyone.

Take action and follow your STAR

Using the mnemonic device “STAR” can guide you toward actions that increase your job satisfaction.

Success on your terms. We all define success differently. If you grew up in a family of college professors, chances are the healthcare field didn’t fit your family’s definition of success; your job dissatisfaction may stem from your inner turmoil over not meeting your family’s expectations. To key into these expectations, recall the “you should” and “you ought to” messages you heard as a child.

Key question: Take a moment to think about what success in your career would look and feel like. Then complete this sentence: “I know I will be successful when I have/I am _________.”

True north as your guide. A large part of how we judge ourselves, our worth, our success, and our happiness hinges on how other people see us. But true success, true happiness, and true job satisfaction are determined from within, by your inner compass. The captain of a ship must always know where true north is, because it never changes (much like our core values). He must know the difference between true north and compass north. Unlike true north, compass north is affected by the earth’s magnetic pull. In life, compass north is the magnetic pull of “you should do this” and “you ought to do that” messages. For instance, if you’re a skilled wound care clinician but have always been particularly passionate about lymphedema, you may dislike your job. That’s because you’ve ignored your true north (inner truth) and given in to compass north (fear of walking away from those current skills, and so forth). Don’t be afraid to follow your true north.

Key question: What steps can you take right now that will move you closer to your true north?

Assess and understand who you are. Most of us can articulate what our strengths are. But that’s not enough. To get more enjoyment from your job, you must stretch and exercise your strengths and look for ways to use them. If the opportunities aren’t there, create them.

Let’s say you’re the one everyone turns to for help when there’s a patient with a lower extremity ulcer. To leverage that strength, offer to hold an education program.

Key questions: List your strengths, and then ask yourself: How can I leverage these? If you’re too humble to recognize your strengths, give yourself 20 lashes (figuratively speaking); then ask a trusted colleague, “What do you see as my strengths?”

Risk it all (within reason). When we play it safe, our lives and careers can be pretty dull. We’re meant to push the envelope and stretch our capabilities. It puts the juice back in our lives and helps us grow and feel more alive. Nothing shakes out the cobwebs and brings excitement back to your career more than taking a risk. With every risk comes the threat of failure, but know that failure is just another form of data that helps you readjust and move forward. Don’t give failure more power than your successes.

Key questions: If you weren’t afraid, what risks would you consider taking to enhance your career? What’s holding you back?

Embrace change

An Eastern saying goes something like this: You can stand by a river, but you can never put your feet in the same place twice. The river is your life. It’s not stagnant; it’s ever changing. Nothing in life stays the same—not personal circumstances, relationships, or careers. You aren’t the clinician you were 10 years ago or even last year. So tweak your professional life to better reflect the clinician you are today. With a little attention, you could make your job the career of your dreams.

Selected references
Bird J. Do you need to love your job? Not necessarily. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Borgatti J. Frazzled, Fried…Finished? A Guide to Help Nurses Find Balance. Borgatti Communications; 2004. and

Colvin C. How to love the job you’ve got. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Johnson Montesol S. How to love the job you’ve got. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN, is the owner of Borgatti Communications in Wellesley Hills, Mass., which provides writing, editing, and coaching services. You may e-mail her at

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Starting a consulting business

wound care business consult

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

Starting your own consulting business is an exciting and rewarding experience: You’re the boss; you’re in charge. The question is, do you have what it takes? Along with the excitement of being the boss comes the responsibility of decisions and commitment. Your decisions will affect whether the business is a failure or a success.

To succeed in consulting, you must be an expert at recognizing problems and shaping solutions to those problems, and you must possess excellent time-management and networking skills. If you think you have what it takes to be a consultant, read on. This article gives an overview of the process.

Nature of the business

Businesses hire consultants for their expertise to help them identify problems, supplement staff, institute change, provide an objective viewpoint, or teach.
Examples of specific services you can offer include single patient reviews, serving as a member of the wound care team, making wound rounds on all patients, providing education, patient teaching, protocol development, and troubleshooting. These services are provided in many settings—long-term care, home care, long-term acute care, rehabilitation hospitals, acute-care hospitals, insurance companies, and primary-care provider groups. (more…)

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Of artichokes and angry patients

By Katherine Rossiter, EJD, MSN, APRN-NP, CPNP; and Stephen Lazoritz, MD, CPE

An angry patient is like an artichoke. An artichoke is prickly and rough on the outside, but by taking time to learn how to peel its rough leaves, you reveal the tender inside. When nurtured under the right conditions, this tender inside grows to bloom into a beautiful purple flower. Patient anger is like the prickly green leaves of the artichoke, it’s a barrier to seeing “inside” and to effectively meeting the patient’s needs (more…)

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Clinical Notes

Study finds ultrasound therapy improves venous ulcer healing

In a study of 10 venous ulcers not responding to treatment, the use of noncontact ultrasound significantly reduced the wound area over 4 weeks of treatment.

It has been unclear exactly how ultrasound achieves its positive results. The
authors of “A prospective pilot study of ultrasound therapy effectiveness in refractory venous leg ulcers,” an article published online on February 1 by the International Wound Journal, found that patients treated with ultrasound and compression therapy had reduced inflammatory cytokines and bacterial counts, but the reduction wasn’t statistically significant.

The study found another important benefit for patients-reduced pain.

Serum albumin is not a goodindicator of nutritional status

Traditionally the standard of practice for wound care patients has been to review albumin blood levels as a measure of nutritional status and the effect of nutritional interventions. But as noted in The Role of Nutrition in Pressure Ulcer Prevention and Treatment: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel White Paper, recent studies show that hepatic proteins (albumin, trans­thyretin, and transferrin) correlate with the severity of an underlying disease, not nutritional status. Moreover, many factors can alter albumin levels even when protein intake is adequate, including infection, acute stress, surgery, cortisone excess, and hydration status.

For these reasons, the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (previously known as The American Dietetic Association) recommend against using serum proteins as a nutritional assessment tool. Evaluation of lab values is just one part of the nutritional assessment process and should be considered along with other factors such as ensuring that the patient receives what is prescribed; daily food/fluid intake; changes in weight status, diagnosis, and medications; and clinical improvement in the wound.

For more information read “Serum proteins as markers of malnutrition: What are we treating?” and “Albumin as an indicator of nutritional status: Professional refresher.”

A profile of outpatients with wounds

Wound care outcomes and associated cost among patients treated in US outpatient wound centers: Data from the US Wound Registry” a study using data from the US Wound Registry to determine outcomes and costs for outpatient wound care, found the mean patient age was 61.7 years, slightly more than half (52.3%) were male, most (71.3%) were white, and more than half (52.6%) were Medicare beneficiaries.

Other interesting findings:

  • The mean number of serious comorbid conditions was 1.8.
  • The most common comorbid conditions were obesity/overweight (71.3%), cardiovascular or peripheral vascular disease (51.3%), and diabetes (46.8%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (65.8%) of wounds healed, with an average healing time
    of 15 weeks.
  • In half of the wounds that healed, patients received only moist wound care and no advanced therapeutics.
  • The mean cost for wound healing was $3,927.

The authors of the article, published in March’s Wounds, analyzed 5,240 patients with 7,099 wounds in 59 hospital-based outpatient wound centers in 18 states over 5 years.

LOI index comparable to ABI for assessing PAD in patients with type 2 diabetes

The pilot study “Lanarkshire Oximetry Index as a diagnostic tool for peripheral arterial disease in type 2 diabetes,” published in Angiology, compared the gold standard ankle bra­chial index (ABI) to the Lanarkshire Oximetry Index (LOI) in 161 patients with type 2 diabetes. Researchers assessed the patients for peripheral artery disease (PAD, defined as ABI < 0.9) using both ABI and LOI.

Using a LOI cut-off value of 0.9., the sensitivity and specificity for PAD were 93.3% and 89.1%, respectively. The study concluded that LOI is a “potentially useful alternative diagnostic test for PAD” in patients with type 2 diabetes.

LOI is a noninvasive procedure similar to ABI; both indices indicate whether it’s safe to apply compression to the limb of a patient who has lower leg ulceration or venous hypertension. With LOI, a pulse oximeter is used in place of a hand-held Doppler to determine the index.

Start planning for World Diabetes Day

It’s not too early to begin planning for World Diabetes Day, November 14. Started by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the day is designed to raise global awareness of diabetes.

Access materials, including posters, a campaign book, and the Word Diabetes Day Logo, from IDF’s website, which also has activity ideas.

WHO estimates that more than 346 million people worldwide have diabetes, and the number is expected to double by 2030. World Diabetes Day is celebrated on November 14 to mark the birthday of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best, was instrumental in the discovery of insulin in 1922.

Guidelines for PAD in patients with diabetes and foot ulceration published

February’s issue of Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews includes “Specific guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of peripheral arterial disease in a patient with diabetes and ulceration of the foot 2011,” which is based on two companion International Working Group on the Diabetic foot papers. The guidelines state that if a patient’s PAD is impairing wound healing, revascularization through bypass or endovascular technique must be considered except in a few cases such as severely frail patients. Limb salvage rates after revascularization procedures are about 80-85%, and there is ulcer healing in > 60% at 12 months.

Other points of particular interest to wound care professionals:

  • Patients with PAD and a foot infection are at high risk for major limb amputation, so should be treated as a “medical emergency”, preferably within 24 hours.
  • Half of patients with diabetes, a foot ulcer, and PAD die within 5 years because of higher cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Cardiovascular risk management should include “support for cessation of smoking, treatment of hypertension, and prescription of a statin as well as low-dose aspirin or clopidrogel.

AHA statement focuses on PAD in women

A call to action: Women and peripheral artery disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association” summarizes evidence in this area and addresses risk-management issues. The statement notes that women (particularly black females) are more likely than men to experience graft failure of limb loss and calls for more research related to PAD and gender.

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Caring for chronic wounds: A knowledge update

By: Patricia A. Slachta, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, CWOCN

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
3 months.
•    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.)

Skin color

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.

Skin temperature

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.

Wound assessment

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.

Wound location

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.

Wound exudate

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

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.”

Pain level

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.

Wound-bed preparation

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.)

Controlling bioburden

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.

Selected references
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.

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Pressure mapping: A new path to pressure-ulcer prevention

pressure-ulcer prevention

By: Darlene Hanson, MS, RN, Pat Thompson, MS, RN, Diane Langemo, PhD, RN, FAAN,  Susan Hunter, MS, RN, and Julie Anderson, PhD, RN, CCRC

Faced with the nursing diagnosis of Impaired skin integrity, we’ve all written care plans that state our goal as “redistributing or reducing pressure.” But how do we do that? Which measures do we take? And how do we know that our interventions have relieved pressure? Do we rely solely on a skin assessment? A patient’s self-assessment of comfort? What if the patient can’t feel pressure relief because of neurologic impairment?

The answers to these questions may be that nurses should use pressure mapping, a tool used by occupational and physical therapists to determine seat-interface pressures and by other healthcare professionals to perform foot assessments. (more…)

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Wet to Dry

By: Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOCN, WCC, CWCMS, DWC

In the modern world of wound care, there are many treatment options. Surprisingly though, we are still seeing orders for those dreaded wet-to-dry dressings. Using a wet-to-dry dressing involves placing moist saline gauze onto the wound bed, then allowing it to dry and adhere to the tissue in the wound bed. Once the gauze is dry, the clinician removes the gauze, with force often required. This has to be repeated every 4 to 6 hours. Wet-to-dry dressings are a nonselective debridement method that harms good tissue as well as removes necrotic tissue. It keeps the wound bed at a cool temperature and it at risk for bacterial invasion, as bacteria can penetrate up to 64 layers of gauze! It’s one of the most painful procedures for our patients, and this was one treatment that as a nurse I never wanted to do. In fact, I have heard of nurses who would remoisten the gauze before removal to make the treatment more bearable for patients.

Are you seeing a lot of these dressing still used in current practice? What types of settings are they still being used in consistently? How are you dealing with the prescribing clinicians who continue to order this treatment even though it’s considered a substandard practice for wound care?

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DISCLAIMER: All clinical recommendations are intended to assist with determining the appropriate wound therapy for the patient. Responsibility for final decisions and actions related to care of specific patients shall remain the obligation of the institution, its staff, and the patients’ attending physicians. Nothing in this information shall be deemed to constitute the providing of medical care or the diagnosis of any medical condition. Individuals should contact their healthcare providers for medical-related information.

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I call shotgun!

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

Ahhh—the front seat, shotgun, the good spot, the privilege-to-sit-in and most coveted of all positions when riding in a car. Those are great words if you’re the caller to stake your claim for the front seat, but not so great if you’re the one stuck in the back seat.

In the world of health care, wound and skin care unfortunately never gets to ride shotgun. It seems like we always get the back seat unless there’s a problem. Think back to your college days. Do you remember Wound and Skin Care 101 and the torture of memorizing all 2,000 wound care products on the market, the endless case studies and wound differentiation quizzes? No? Well neither do I. If your schooling was like mine, you learned about sterile dressing changes, wet-to-dry dressings, Montgomery straps, and if you were lucky, how to apply an ostomy bag.

Granted, I went to nursing school in the 1970s. But things haven’t changed much. Wound care still gets the back seat when it comes to educational priorities. A survey by Ayello, Baranoski, and Salati of 692 registered nurses found that 70% considered their basic wound care education to be insufficient and fewer than 50% of new nurses believed they could consistently identify pressure ulcer stages. Another survey of nursing textbooks revealed students could be exposed to as few as 45 lines of text on pressure ulcers.

It’s not just lack of nursing education, but also poor physician education. As reported in a poster by Garcia and colleagues, only 8 of 50 medical residents scored more than 50% on a 20-question test measuring pressure ulcer knowledge, with a high score of 65% (range, 13.04% to 76.09% correct).

It’s time for a change, and I’m excited to be a part of a new tool to help move wound and skin care education to the front seat: Wound Care Advisor, the official journal of the National Alliance of Wound Care (NAWC). With its “Don’t just tell me, but show me” approach, the journal will feature plenty of photographs, step-by-step instructions, and video how-to’s. If you’re like me and prone to attention deficit, you’re in luck. We’ll keep things practical and to the point, with a “learn it today and do it tomorrow” mantra.

Another cutting-edge feature of the journal is the electronic-only format; this isn’t a print journal. The no-paper format will help us declutter our lives and minimize our ecological footprint. Not to worry, though: With our print-on-demand feature, you can always print out individual articles or even the entire journal if you want.

In keeping with NAWC principles, Wound Care Advisor is geared toward all care settings and a multidisciplinary audience. This isn’t just the NAWC journal; it’s your journal. We need you to help us move wound care from the back seat to the front seat of the car by sharing your knowledge and passion for wound and skin care. Call or e-mail us your case studies, best practices, tools, forms, wound photos, or even feedback about the journal.

I truly believe that together, you, I, NAWC, and Wound Care Advisor can move wound and skin care education to the front seat. I look forward to working with you on the ride to the coveted shotgun seat.

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

Selected references
Ayello EA, Baranoski S. Examining the problem of pressure ulcers. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2005; 18:192-194.
Ayello EA, Baranoski S, Salati DS. A survey of nurses’ wound care knowledge. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2005;18(5 Pt 1):268-275.
Ayello EA, Meaney G. Replicating a survey of pressure ulcer content in nursing textbooks. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2003;30(5): 266-271.
Garcia AD, Perkins C, Click C, Bergstrom N, Taffet G. Pressure ulcers education in primary care residencies. Poster session presented at 19th Annual Clinical Symposium on Advances in Skin & Wound Care. September 30-October 3, 2004; Phoenix, Arizona.

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Wound Healing Improves With New Bioactive Peptide Combo

bioactive peptide

By combining bioactive peptides, researchers have successfully stimulated wound healing in an in vitro and in vivo study. The studies, published in PLoS ONE, show that the combination of two peptides stimulates growth of blood vessels and promotes tissue re-growth of tissue. Further research into these peptides could potentially lead to new therapies for chronic and acute wounds.

The researchers evaluated a newly-created peptide, UN3, in pre-clinical models with the goal of simulating impaired wound healing as in patients suffering from peripheral vascular diseases or uncontrolled diabetes. They discovered that the peptide increased the development of blood vessel walls by 50%, with an 250% increase in blood vessel growth, and a 300% increase in cell migration in response to the injury. (more…)

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Reach over 65,000 healthcare providers interested in wound and ostomy products with our economical advertising opportunities – starting as low as $500 per month.

The new and improved is ready!  Consider adding our unique educational web destination as a budget-friendly way to interact with an audience of over 65,000 wound care professionals every month without breaking the bank! is the perfect environment to promote your products and/or services. Wound Care Advisor provides vital insight from authoritative experts that empower healthcare providers treating wounds every day through collaborative, practical, how-to peer-reviewed editorial and trusted resources. The website’s content offers something for everyone. (more…)

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