Guest column: Healing the wound

For most healthy individuals, a stubbed toe, cut or scrape is a minor inconvenience easily remedied with an ice pack or a bandage. However, for the elderly and people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or vascular disease, even a minor injury can become life-threatening. This is because the body's natural healing ability is impaired in people with these diseases.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 6.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic wounds - wounds that will not heal, take a very long time to heal or that close and reopen. A wound is considered chronic when the wound fails to progress in an orderly and timely way through the stages of wound healing. Chronic wounds can have serious health consequences and are sometimes called the 'silent epidemic' because they pose a serious threat to the patient, yet are rarely discussed.

Often, the body loses the ability to repair itself and requires intervention and treatment. Wound healing is complex and multiple factors need to be taken into consideration. For instance, poor health, poor nutrition, obesity, and smoking may delay wound healing. Lack of resources such as medications or help with care at home contribute to wounds becoming chronic. Elderly or bed-bound persons may get pressure wounds from lying or sitting in the same position for too long. Wounds may also change during the healing process and require new treatment options.

Northern Arizona Healthcare has certified wound care nurses and physical therapists at its hospitals and several outpatient clinic locations to meet the needs of individuals with chronic wounds. These specialists work collaboratively with the individual's medical care team to assess, help develop a plan of care and monitor the wounds and the healing process - in and out of the hospital.

Northern Arizona Healthcare's wound care team developed guidelines to determine the best products for patients that can be used both in the hospital and at home. Educational materials regarding wound care are available to help individuals care for their wounds at home - how to change dressings to promote healing, how to identify infection and when to follow up with a healthcare provider.

Gaylene Montez, R.N., B.S.N., C.W.O.C.N.; and Susan Lynch, R.N., B.S.N., C.W.O.C.N.; are certified wound, ostomy and continence nurses, in the Center for Care Management at Flagstaff Medical Center.

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