Risk assessment tools used for preventing pressure ulcers

Pressure ulcers (also known as bed sores, pressure sores and decubitus ulcers) are areas of localised injury to the skin, underlying tissue or both, usually over a bony prominence, as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear (tissue distortion resulting from squeezing and stretching soft tissues between bony structures and the skin). Pressure ulcers mainly occur in people who have limited mobility, nerve damage or both. Pressure ulcer risk assessment is part of the process used to identify individuals at risk of developing a pressure ulcer. Risk assessments generally use checklists and their use is recommended by pressure ulcer prevention guidelines. This review found two studies that were eligible for inclusion. The first study found no difference in the number of new pressure ulcers that developed in individuals assessed using the Braden risk assessment compared with an unstructured risk assessment. However, there were methodological limitations with this study. The second study also found no differences in the number of new pressure ulcers that developed in individuals assessed using the Waterlow risk assessment tool, the Ramstadius risk assessment tool, or using clinical judgement alone. This study did not have methodological limitations. Therefore, to date, there are no studies to suggest that the use of risk assessment tools, reduces the number of new pressure ulcers that develop.

Authors' conclusions: 

Two studies were identified which evaluated the effect of risk assessment on patient outcomes; In one study, there was no statistically significant difference in pressure ulcer incidence between people who were assessed using the Braden risk assessment tool compared with those receiving unstructured risk assessment. Methodological limitations of this study prevent firm conclusions being drawn. However, a further high quality RCT identified no statistical differences in pressure ulcer incidence when people were assessed using either the Waterlow risk assessment tool, the Ramstadius risk assessment tool, or using clinical judgement alone. There is no reliable evidence to suggest that the use of structured, systematic pressure ulcer risk assessment tools reduces the incidence of pressure ulcers.

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Background: 

Use of pressure ulcer risk assessment tools or scales is a component of the assessment process used to identify individuals at risk of developing a pressure ulcer. Indeed, use of a risk assessment tool is recommended by many international pressure ulcer prevention guidelines, however it is not known whether using a risk assessment tool makes a difference to patient outcomes. We conducted a review to provide a summary of the evidence pertaining to pressure ulcer risk assessment in clinical practice.

Objectives: 

To determine whether using structured, systematic pressure ulcer risk assessment tools, in any health care setting, reduces the incidence of pressure ulcers.

Search strategy: 

In December 2013, for this second update, we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid EMBASE; and EBSCO CINAHL.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the use of structured, systematic, pressure ulcer risk assessment tools with no structured pressure ulcer risk assessment, or with unaided clinical judgement, or RCTs comparing the use of different structured pressure ulcer risk assessment tools.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed titles and abstracts of the studies identified by the search strategy for eligibility, obtained full versions of potentially relevant studies and screened these against the inclusion criteria.

Main results: 

We included two studies in this review. One small, cluster randomised study found no statistical difference in pressure ulcer incidence in patients who were assessed by nurses using the Braden risk assessment tool (n=74) compared with patients assessed by nurses who had receiving training and then used unstructured risk assessment (n=76) (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.53 to 1.77) and those patients assessed by nurses using unstructured risk assessment alone (n=106) (RR 1.43, 95% CI 0.77 to 2.68) . The second study was a large single blind randomised controlled study which compared the effect of risk assessment on pressure ulcer incidence using the Waterlow risk assessment tool (n=411), the Ramstadius risk screening tool (n=420) and no formal risk assessment (n=420). There was no statistical difference in pressure ulcer incidence between the three groups (Waterlow 7.5% (n=31); Ramstadius 5.4% (n=22); clinical judgement 6.8% (n=28) (RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.81; Waterlow vs no formal risk assessment), (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.35; Ramstadius vs no formal risk assessment), (RR 1.44, 95% CI 0.85 to 2.44; Waterlow vs Ramstadius).

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