In April 2008, the Medical Advisory Secretariat began an evidence-based review of the literature concerning pressure ulcers.
Please visit the Medical Advisory Secretariat Web site, http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/providers/program/mas/tech/tech_mn.html to review these titles that are currently available within the Pressure Ulcers series.
Pressure ulcer prevention: an evidence based analysis
The cost-effectiveness of prevention strategies for pressure ulcers in long-term care homes in Ontario: projections of the Ontario Pressure Ulcer Model (field evaluation)
Management of chronic pressure ulcers: an evidence-based analysis (anticipated pubicstion date - mid-2009)
A pressure ulcer, also known as a pressure sore, decubitus ulcer, or bedsore, is defined as a localized injury to the skin/and or underlying tissue occurring most often over a bony prominence and caused by pressure, shear, or friction, alone or in combination. (1) Those at risk for developing pressure ulcers include the elderly and critically ill as well as persons with neurological impairments and those who suffer conditions associated with immobility. Pressure ulcers are graded or staged with a 4-point classification system denoting severity. Stage I represents the beginnings of a pressure ulcer and stage IV, the severest grade, consists of full thickness tissue loss with exposed bone, tendon, and or muscle. (1)
In a 2004 survey of Canadian health care settings, Woodbury and Houghton (2) estimated that the prevalence of pressure ulcers at a stage 1 or greater in Ontario ranged between 13.1% and 53% with nonacute health care settings having the highest prevalence rate (Table 1).
Executive Summary Table 1: Prevalence of Pressure Ulcers*
CI indicates confidence interval.
Nonacute care included sub-acute care, chronic care, complex continuing care, long-term care, and nursing home care.
Mixed health care includes a mixture of acute, nonacute, and/or community care health care delivery settings.
Pressure ulcers have a considerable economic impact on health care systems. In Australia, the cost of treating a single stage IV ulcer has been estimated to be greater than $61,000 (AUD) (approximately $54,000 CDN), (3) while in the United Kingdom the total cost of pressure ulcers has been estimated at £1.4–£2.1 billion annually or 4% of the National Health Service expenditure. (4)
Because of the high physical and economic burden of pressure ulcers, this review was undertaken to determine which interventions are effective at preventing the development of pressure ulcers in an at-risk population.
The main objective of this systematic review is to determine the effectiveness of pressure ulcer preventive interventions including Risk Assessment, Distribution Devices, Nutritional Supplementation, Repositioning, and Incontinence Management.
A comprehensive literature search was completed for each of the above 5 preventive interventions. The electronic databases searched included MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature. As well, the bibliographic references of selected studies were searched. All studies meeting explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria for each systematic review section were retained and the quality of the body of evidence was determined using the Grading of Recommendation Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) system. (5) Where appropriate, a meta-analysis was undertaken to determine the overall estimate of effect of the preventive intervention under review.
Summary of Findings
There is very low quality evidence to support the hypothesis that allocating the type of pressure-relieving equipment according to the person’s level of pressure ulcer risk statistically decreases the incidence of pressure ulcer development. Similarly, there is very low quality evidence to support the hypothesis that incorporating a risk assessment into nursing practice increases the number of preventative measures used per person and that these interventions are initiated earlier in the care continuum.
Pressure Redistribution Devices
There is moderate quality evidence that the use of an alternative foam mattress produces a relative risk reduction (RRR) of 69% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a standard hospital mattress. The evidence does not support the superiority of one particular type of alternative foam mattress.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress is associated with an RRR of 71% in the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers. Similarly, there is low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress is associated with an RRR of 68% in the incidence of deteriorating skin changes.
There is moderate quality evidence that there is a statistically nonsignificant difference in the incidence of grade 2 pressure ulcers between persons using an alternating pressure mattress and those using an alternating pressure overlay.
There is moderate quality evidence that the use of an Australian sheepskin produces an RRR of 58% in the incidence of pressure ulcers grade 1 or greater. There is also evidence that sheepskins are uncomfortable to use. The Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel noted that, in general, sheepskins are not a useful preventive intervention because they bunch up in a patient’s bed and may contribute to wound infection if not properly cleaned, and this reduces their acceptability as a preventive intervention.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of a Micropulse System alternating pressure mattress used intra operatively and postoperatively produces an RRR of 79% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a gel-pad used intraoperatively and a standard hospital mattress used postoperatively (standard care). It is unclear if this effect is due to the use of the alternating pressure mattress intraoperatively or postoperatively or if indeed it must be used in both patient care areas.
There is low quality evidence that the use of a vesico-elastic polymer pad (gel pad) on the operating table for surgeries of at least 90 minutes’ duration produces a statistically significant RRR of 47% in the incidence of pressure ulcers grade 1 or greater compared with a standard operating table foam mattress.
There is low quality evidence that the use of an air suspension bed in the intensive care unit (ICU) for stays of at least 3 days produces a statistically significant RRR of 76% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a standard ICU bed.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress does not statistically reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with an alternative foam mattress.
There is very low quality evidence supporting an RRR of 15% in the incidence of pressure ulcers when nutritional supplementation is added to a standard hospital diet.
There is low quality evidence supporting the superiority of a 4-hourly turning schedule with a vesico-elastic polyurethane foam mattress compared with a 2-hourly or 3-hourly turning schedule and a standard foam mattress to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers.
There is very low quality evidence supporting the benefit of a structured skin care protocol to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers in persons with urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
There is low quality evidence supporting the benefit of a pH-balanced cleanser compared with soap and water to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers in persons with urinary and fecal incontinence.
There is moderate quality evidence that an alternative foam mattress is effective in preventing the development of pressure ulcers compared with a standard hospital foam mattress.
However, overall there remains a paucity of moderate or higher quality evidence in the literature to support many of the preventive interventions. Until better quality evidence is available, pressure ulcer preventive care must be guided by expert opinion for those interventions where low or very low quality evidence supports the effectiveness of such interventions.
Grading of Recommendation Assessment, Development, and Evaluation
Intensive care unit
Medical Advisory Secretariat
National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel
Risk assessment scale
Randomized controlled trial
Registered Nurses Association of Ontario
Relative risk reduction