This review was conducted to assess the effectiveness of negative pressure wound therapy.
Clinical Need: Target Population and Condition
Many wounds are difficult to heal, despite medical and nursing care. They may result from complications of an underlying disease, like diabetes; or from surgery, constant pressure, trauma, or burns. Chronic wounds are more often found in elderly people and in those with immunologic or chronic diseases. Chronic wounds may lead to impaired quality of life and functioning, to amputation, or even to death.
The prevalence of chronic ulcers is difficult to ascertain. It varies by condition and complications due to the condition that caused the ulcer. There are, however, some data on condition-specific prevalence rates; for example, of patients with diabetes, 15% are thought to have foot ulcers at some time during their lives. The approximate community care cost of treating leg ulcers in Canada, without reference to cause, has been estimated at upward of $100 million per year.
Surgically created wounds can also become chronic, especially if they become infected. For example, the reported incidence of sternal wound infections after median sternotomy is 1% to 5%. Abdominal surgery also creates large open wounds. Because it is sometimes necessary to leave these wounds open and allow them to heal on their own (secondary intention), some may become infected and be difficult to heal.
Yet, little is known about the wound healing process, and this makes treating wounds challenging. Many types of interventions are used to treat wounds.
Current best practice for the treatment of ulcers and other chronic wounds includes debridement (the removal of dead or contaminated tissue), which can be surgical, mechanical, or chemical; bacterial balance; and moisture balance. Treating the cause, ensuring good nutrition, and preventing primary infection also help wounds to heal. Saline or wet-to-moist dressings are reported as traditional or conventional therapy in the literature, although they typically are not the first line of treatment in Ontario. Modern moist interactive dressings are foams, calcium alginates, hydrogels, hydrocolloids, and films. Topical antibacterial agents—antiseptics, topical antibiotics, and newer antimicrobial dressings—are used to treat infection.
The Technology Being Reviewed
Negative pressure wound therapy is not a new concept in wound therapy. It is also called subatmospheric pressure therapy, vacuum sealing, vacuum pack therapy, and sealing aspirative therapy.
The aim of the procedure is to use negative pressure to create suction, which drains the wound of exudate (i.e., fluid, cells, and cellular waste that has escaped from blood vessels and seeped into tissue) and influences the shape and growth of the surface tissues in a way that helps healing. During the procedure, a piece of foam is placed over the wound, and a drain tube is placed over the foam. A large piece of transparent tape is placed over the whole area, including the healthy tissue, to secure the foam and drain the wound. The tube is connected to a vacuum source, and fluid is drawn from the wound through the foam into a disposable canister. Thus, the entire wound area is subjected to negative pressure. The device can be programmed to provide varying degrees of pressure either continuously or intermittently. It has an alarm to alert the provider or patient if the pressure seal breaks or the canister is full.
Negative pressure wound therapy may be used for patients with chronic and acute wounds; subacute wounds (dehisced incisions); chronic, diabetic wounds or pressure ulcers; meshed grafts (before and after); or flaps. It should not be used for patients with fistulae to organs/body cavities, necrotic tissue that has not been debrided, untreated osteomyelitis, wound malignancy, wounds that require hemostasis, or for patients who are taking anticoagulants.
The inclusion criteria were as follows:
Randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample size of 20 or more
Published in English
Summary of Findings
Seven international health technology assessments on NPWT were identified. Included in this list of health technology assessments is the original health technology review on NPWT by the Medical Advisory Secretariat from 2004. The Medical Advisory Secretariat found that the health technology assessments consistently reported that NPWT may be useful for healing various types of wounds, but that its effectiveness could not be empirically quantified because the studies were poorly done, the patient populations and outcome measures could not be compared, and the sample sizes were small.
Six RCTs were identified that compared NPWT to standard care. Five of the 6 studies were of low or very low quality according to Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) criteria. The low and very low quality RCTs were flawed owing to small sample sizes, inconsistent reporting of results, and patients lost to follow-up. The highest quality study, which forms the basis of this health technology policy assessment, found that:
There was not a statistically significant difference (≥ 20%) between NPWT and standard care in the rate of complete wound closure in patients who had complete wound closure but did not undergo surgical wound closure (P = .15).
The authors of this study did not report the length of time to complete wound closure between NPWT and standard care in patients who had complete wound closure but who did not undergo surgical wound closure
There was no statistically significant difference (≥ 20%) in the rate of secondary amputations between the patients that received NPWT and those that had standard care (P = .06)
There may be an increased risk of wound infection in patients that receive NPWT compared with those that receive standard care.
Based on the evidence to date, the clinical effectiveness of NPWT to heal wounds is unclear. Furthermore, saline dressings are not standard practice in Ontario, thereby rendering the literature base irrelevant in an Ontario context. Nonetheless, despite the lack of methodologically sound studies, NPWT has diffused across Ontario.
Discussions with Ontario clinical experts have highlighted some deficiencies in the current approach to wound management, especially in the community. Because NPWT is readily available, easy to administer, and may save costs, compared with multiple daily conventional dressing changes, it may be used inappropriately. The discussion group highlighted the need to put in place a coordinated, multidisciplinary strategy for wound care in Ontario to ensure the best, continuous care of patients.