The demand for wound care has never been greater. And as the population ages and chronic disease rates continue to rise, it’s unlikely that this need will slow down in the coming years. Clearly, Canada needs more specialists in the field—and we need them now.
But change doesn’t happen overnight. So it’s important for care provider organizations to make the most of the wound care expertise they have access to now.
Luckily, there are effective and inexpensive tools that can help. With the right information technology, wound care teams can find and implement the knowledge and skills of enterostomal therapy (ET) nurses.
Even health care practitioners who aren’t tech savvy are likely to be familiar with information technology (IT) in forms such as WiFi and telephone networks. IT enables us to create, process, store, and exchange data. And today, it’s more useful, secure, and intuitive than ever before.
In this post, we’ll look specifically at information technology in the context of home wound care.
1)It’s extending the reach of wound care specialists
For home care patients with chronic wounds, limited access to wound care specialists can pose a serious problem.
The fact is, there just aren’t enough enterostomal therapy (ET) nurses to meet growing wound care demand. As the population ages and rates of chronic disease grow, the number of people at risk for skin breakdown is on the rise. As one example, Canadian diabetes rates are skyrocketing, which is significant because 15% of those with the disease develop foot ulcers.
In at-home settings, the issue is especially pressing. It’s estimated that one-third of home care patients have wound care needs.
Information technology (IT) can help. With the right digital infrastructure, at-home patients can have regular, highly-convenient visits with specialists. Videoconferencing apps allow ET nurses to perform real-time wound assessments and answer patient questions face to face.
For wound care specialists, time is precious. More time means better care for more patients. Luckily, IT makes it possible to connect with wound care patients in a fraction of the time it would take to travel for in-person appointments.
2) With the right IT, more nurses learn to properly treat complex wounds
It’s true that videoconferencing apps help wound care patients by connecting them directly to care providers. But these technologies have another major benefit.
A patient and remote specialist aren’t always the only people involved in a consultation. Often, a home care nurse is present at the patient’s home. This three-way conversation provides a unique opportunity for generalist nurses. It enables them to not only provide patients with care informed by specialist expertise, but to learn from the experience.
Sadly, parts of North America have become “wound care deserts” (areas where patients have no direct access to wound care expertise). In these cases, nurses who aren’t specialized are usually the ones who perform treatment on chronic wounds.
This isn’t the only scenario where generalist nurses have to step in. Because of the demand for wound care, specialists can’t always travel to patients’ houses—even in urban centres.
Fortunately, a lot of wound care falls within general nursing scopes of practice. Home care nurses can learn how to perform specific wound care procedures by receiving video coaching from experts. And the best way to get this coaching is in real-time, while helping real patients.
Information technology will play an important role in helping to train a new generation of nurses to care for wounds. All it will take is the the right mobile app, the guidance of experts, and a will to learn a new set of skills.
3) It makes it easy to securely share patients’ wound-related information
Legislation that protects health information (such as PHIPA in Ontario or HIPPA at the federal level in the U.S.) is extremely important. But it can pose challenges to efficient home care delivery—especially when it comes to communication.
If you’re medical practitioner or professional caregiver, you know you can’t rely on most intuitive methods of exchanging patient information. Sending an image or discussing a patient’s condition via text would be so easy. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be secure—or legal.
Any practitioner who provides home care knows the value of quick, convenient communication. It’s not just about making things simpler for health care workers. It’s about getting the right information to right practitioner to ensure the patient receives responsive care.
When it comes to wound care, tracking subtle changes is important. Preventing infection could mean sparing a patients long-term pain and suffering—and in some cases, the loss of a limb.
In order to properly assess a wound’s development, ET nurses need to see it in its current state, and at various previous stages. Images and videos make it possible to follow healing progress and spot potential problems. In many cases, written updates are also critical in order for practitioners to fully understand a patient’s condition.
With the right IT infrastructure, the exchange and storage of wound-related images, videos, and written information can be simple and secure. A secure mobile app with an intuitive interface makes it easy for anyone within a patient’s circle of care view and share this data.
4) It can provide advanced wound care to more rural & remote patients
It’s an unfortunate reality. Home care patients in rural and remote regions don’t always receive the same high-quality care as their urban counterparts. Access to specialists can be an especially daunting challenge in these areas.
Dr. Michael Kirlew, a physician who works in a remote Ontario First Nation, called attention to this issue last year. In interviews, Kirlew noted that he’s unable to provide patients with specialist care—such as mental health therapy and autism therapy.
Of course, those living on First Nations face many unique health care barriers. Limited specialist services is just one issue, but it has a very real impact on health outcomes.
Geographic distance from health care specialists poses a huge challenge. It’s a challenge that’s heightened by the fact that remote and rural communities see higher than average rates of health issues like obesity. As a result, these regions tend to have high concentrations of diseases like diabetes. Chronic wounds frequently go along with these diseases.
We’ve already descried how videoconferencing can help wound care specialists provide regular care for more patients. But when it comes to helping patients in underserved areas, the impact of IT and videoconferencing technology can be especially high.
In recent years, IT infrastructures (including WiFi and cell networks) have evolved in a major way. As a result, the convenience of mobile technologies is available in more places than ever before.
Not so long ago, a chronic wound sufferer in Northern Ontario would have had extremely limited access to expert wound care knowledge. This has changed.
5) The right IT makes more holistic wound care possible
There’s more to a wound care patient than her wounds. To increases the chances of achieving positive health outcomes, care practitioners need to treat the whole human being.
There’s no shortage of research linking patient factors such as nutrition and mental state to wound healing. Similarly, a detailed medical history can provide clues to unexpected wound behaviour. This history may include events from the past that haven’t been recorded, or lifestyle choices that weren’t previously disclosed to doctors. The best way to see the complete picture is to speak to your wound care patient. Doing so also allows nurses to identify patient goals and preferences.
Every time new information is collected, it should be added to a patient’s care plan. The value of keeping this plan up-to-date and accessible to the whole care team can’t be overstated.
With an intuitive mobile app, it’s easy to integrate the many facets of a patient’s care into one synchronized document. IT allows all team members—from the pharmacist to the dietician—to capture, store, and share patient information. In this way, it enables practitioners to work together toward better outcomes.
A comprehensive plan should address chronic wounds. It should help both practitioners and patients meet care goals. Working toward or speeding up healing, improving quality of life, and reducing pain are important considerations.
Feature image courtesy of Andrew Hart