In the United States, it’s estimated that hard-to-heal wounds affect about 6.5 million patients. And right now, many of them – and their carers and healthcare professionals – are immersed in what many in the industry call the “wound care crisis.”
As industry leaders, we’ve investigated the barriers contributing to the current crisis. A large and ever-growing population, for example, is just one reason. Antimicrobial resistance, which presents challenges in treating these hard-to-heal wounds, is another. Access to quality care, patient lifestyle and wellbeing, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, and other health conditions, especially diabetes, can all influence the healing of a wound.
However, an oft-overlooked barrier – and one that we believe requires more attention and resources – is patient education, compliance and empowerment.
Education as it stands
Healthcare professionals have expressed concern about lacking the time to devote to education and learning. However, we’re on the right track thanks to the work of professional organizations that provide a variety of resources, education and support for healthcare professionals who are caring for patients with hard-to-heal wounds. In addition, at Convatec, we’re advancing education by investing in digital medical education capability. Last year alone, we engaged over 300,000 healthcare professionals through online learning, and we’ve started deploying peer-to-peer teaching tools and apps to make access even easier.
On the other hand, the development of quality education for patients and caregivers with hard-to-heal wounds is still in its infancy. While patient resources do exist, they can sometimes feel overwhelming – heavy with medical language and terminology that are unfamiliar to patients.
Improving access to these resources for patients is an important first step. But even that’s not enough. Not only do resources need to educate patients, but they also need to empower them to care for and manage their hard-to-heal wounds. The healthcare professional has a duty to inform patients, while patients have a responsibility to act on the information provided in their best health interest.
The right resources
Whether in-home or at a clinic, healthcare professionals often have hands-on time with patients, giving them the chance to offer patients expertise and encouragement to make choices that are going to help progress their wounds.
We know, however, that healthcare professionals have busy caseloads – and can’t be accessible to patients 24 hours a day. It’s the time spent away from healthcare professionals that patients make the most important choices. It’s in that time between appointments that they decide what to eat, whether to have that last cigarette before bed or to skip a dose of antibiotics. It’s then that they may manage their wounds on their own (or with a caregiver). It’s essential to educate and encourage them to make informed and rational health choices.
It’s these choices that can impact the outcomes of their hard-to-heal wounds – that they have the power to change the trajectory of their care based on these decisions. As an industry, we can do more to empower them to play an active role in their wound healing with these three steps.
- Make it easy
The resources and support we provide our patients should be easy and digestible. A great example of this is Wound Hygiene – a four-step plan designed to help clean, decontaminate and dress a wound to encourage healing. The concept of Wound Hygiene is simple, initiated by global experts in the field of wound management and born from the idea that we follow basic hygiene, like washing our hands routinely each day.
By encouraging our patients to take a level of ownership in their care and feel that they have the power to make positive changes and implement easy and routine regimes, like Wound Hygiene, on their own, we can feel more confident that they aren’t only getting best standards of care when we’re there to support – but always.
- Improve healthcare professional education
According to recent research supported by Convatec, 87% of people with long-term health conditions, such as living with a wound, face stigma. At the same time, 60% of nurses feel less than completely comfortable talking with their patients about challenges related to their current health condition – highlighting an important need for better professional education in this area.
The challenges that come with hard-to-heal wounds can be complex and emotional for our patients. Arming our healthcare professionals with the training they need to talk openly to navigate complex conversations can only benefit our patients and their caregivers.
- Encourage conversation
Nurses and healthcare professionals are strapped for time – in fact, according to recent research, 71% of nurses agree that they need more time to spend with their patients.
It’s important, though, to spend whatever time possible having quality conversation with patients – addressing concerns, answering medical questions, of course, but also encouraging them to discuss challenges that they may be facing that could be the root cause of poor compliance.
Successful intervention begins with identifying the patient’s willingness to change behaviors. For example, if a patient refuses to quit smoking despite constant efforts to educate them of the benefits, it’s important to understand why. Through deeper, more exploratory conversations and relationship building, underlying factors that are driving that decision like personal stress, career troubles, or financial strains may be uncovered. Techniques such as motivational interviewing require healthcare professionals to engage with the patient as an equal partner.
The wound care crisis can feel overwhelming – for both patients and healthcare professionals, who are time poor and resource-lacking. As healthcare professionals and industry leaders, we can empower our patients to help overcome the crisis by providing them with the right resources that meet their needs and making time for important, meaningful conversations.
Rachel Torkington-Stokes, Global Medical Affairs Director, Advanced Wound Care, Convatec
Rachel Torkington-Stokes is a podiatrist by profession with a specialty in wound management and tissue viability. For over 15 years, Torkington-Stokes worked at the UK National Health Service in both acute and community-based settings. Since 2005, Torkington-Stokes has been with Convatec, which recently announced its refreshed brand, ‘forever caring,’ to commit to making positive change for healthcare professionals, patients and caregivers with long-term health conditions. Most recently, Rachel serves as the Global Medical Affairs Director, Advanced Wound Care, Convatec, where she leads medical education strategy to influence change in practice, drive efficiency and promote high standards of patient care.