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The True Cost of Pressure Ulcers

Written July 26, 2017

Approximately 2.5 million reported cases, 60,000 deaths from complications, 17,000 lawsuits, and anywhere from $9-12 billion in associated costs annually.

We’re not talking about cancer, or heart disease, or any other high profile condition. No, those numbers are about something quietly causing pain and suffering in what is officially classified a “never event” (as in it should never happen).

Pressure ulcers. Bedsores. Pressure sores. No matter what you call them, they’re entirely too common in hospitals and nursing homes. These skin lesions and sores are the second leading cause of death resulting from medical treatment.

Roughly 4% of hospital admissions for bedsores result in death, and that figure more than triples to 13% when combined with another existing condition.

Typically caused by continuous pressure and friction in areas where bone is close to the skin – think ankles, elbows, shoulder blades, hips, back, heels, back of the head, tailbone – pressure ulcers are the result of reduced blood flow to the area.

Left untreated, they progress through their four stages, ultimately becoming both very painful and potentially life-threatening.

The Scope of the Issue

Unfortunately, finding accurate numbers is difficult, as many institutions and care facilities are reluctant to report cases because these sores are almost exclusively the result of negligence or abuse.

Prevalent among both the elderly and the immobile, bedsores are frequent among those in wheelchairs, the bedridden, and those either paralyzed or in a coma.

But prevention is as easy as changing position – either alone or with assistance – every 15 minutes for those in a wheelchair or every two hours for those confined to a bed. There are even special pillows and pads available to relieve pressure on the skin.
Stages II through IV are 100% preventable with proper care and monitoring.

From the data that does exist, pressure ulcers occur in as much as 15% of acute care patients, 26% of hospital patients, 39% among those with spinal cord injuries, and a staggering 43% among nursing home residents.

And those are just the reported cases.

The True Cost of Pressure Ulcers

The cost to the healthcare industry is phenomenal, with $10 billion often used as a conservative average.

But that says nothing of the pain, suffering, depression, infection, sepsis, gangrene, anemia, and even death caused by an entirely avoidable condition.

Pressure ulcers, even those caught early, can increase your stay in a hospital by an average of over ten days. Stages III and IV require even lengthier stays. That’s one less bed for someone else, unnecessary pain and suffering for the afflicted, and a shameful drain on healthcare resources and infrastructure.

Stage IV

The treatment and recovery cost for serious pressure ulcers can be astronomical.

One extensive study found an average cost of $129,248 for hospital-acquired Stage IV ulcers, and only slightly less at $124,327 for community-acquired.

Treatment costs for the healthcare provider rack up quickly. Stage IV ulcer patients require accommodations, radiology, laboratory tests, time in the operating room, pathology, and ancillary and consultation services, among several more.

Now multiply that by the number of cases each year and you start to get an idea of the cost, both financial and personal, and the lives lost.

Let’s be clear: pressure ulcers should never, ever happen. Period. And when they do, the hospital or care facility is at fault.

That same study found that Stage IV bedsore lawsuits resulted in financial compensation averaging $250,000 and $65 million in total. Lawsuits for nursing home-acquired ulcers found in favor of the patient in over 90% of cases.

There are few if any legitimate excuses for pressure sores in the eyes of the law.

But what can be done? Comprehensive training and prevention programs have reduced instances by up to 90%, at an average cost of just $520/per patient/per month. Sadly, many facilities don’t implement these plans on a wide enough scale, or sometimes at all.

Pressure ulcers may be off the radar for the public, but if you or a loved one have ever had one, you know just how agonizing they can be. It’s absolute misery, and what’s worse, it’s life-threatening misery. They are not merely uncomfortable and “just” bedsores.

They’re a dangerous byproduct of neglect. A completely avoidable example of hospital and nursing home staff failing their patients and residents. They are killers that need to be stamped out. If you’ve suffered on account of pressure ulcers, contact the attorneys at Duffy & Duffy, PLLC. You deserve justice and compensation, and those responsible deserve to be made accountable.

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