Malpractice Lawsuits Due to Improper Wound Care
Wound care has increasingly been recognized as a specialty in recent years, coinciding with the rise in the number of elderly persons living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that increase the risk of development of wounds, both acute and chronic. As our knowledge and ability to better treat acute and chronic wounds has increased, so too has our legal obligation to both prevent wounds and treat them properly when they occur. Malpractice lawsuits due to improper wound care are not uncommon, thus it is every medical professional’s responsibility to ensure that wounds are treated according to best practice.
Malpractice lawsuits may result from the development of ulcers that should never have developed. The term “never event” refers to medical errors that should never occur; this term was coined in 2001 by the CEO of the National Quality Forum. Today there are six groups containing 29 events. Under the Care Management heading are any stage lll, stage lV or unstageable pressure ulcers that present after admission to a health care facility (AHRQ, 2016). As an event that should never occur, the development of a pressure ulcer leads to increase health care costs and prolonged hospitalizations, not to mention the pain and suffering endured by the patient. As such, the development of pressure ulcers, which are seen as preventable in most circumstances, can render individuals and institutions at risk of being named in a malpractice suit.
Lack of Knowledge and Training
There are many ways in which wounds can be improperly cared for, leading to malpractice lawsuits. Health care workers who lack knowledge and/or training may fail to recognize the developing ulcer, may fail to recognize when a wound is getting worse rather than improving or may fail to identify the type of wound, thus applying the incorrect dressing or treatment. Such errors can lead to infection, loss of limb and even death in some cases. Facilities such as nursing homes, where there are typically more health care aids than licensed personnel such as registered nurses, are particularly vulnerable. Allegations regarding skin and wound care are the second-leading cause of malpractice suits in nursing homes (Chizek, 2003).
Another problem that can increase the risk of malpractice suits is that of improper documentation. In some cases, although the proper treatments have been instituted, proper documentation of wound healing has resulted in a malpractice suit.
Another issue of concern is that individuals who are not properly trained in wound care may not understand the necessary wound-related documentation required for patients during their treatment. As a result of incorrect documentation, lawsuits often find against the facility, due to the appearance of incompetence, even if appropriate procedures were followed (Fowler, 2010; Fife & Yankowsky, 2013).
As can be seen, practitioners must keep up to date concerning wound care education. This is challenging, considering the wound care field has grown exponentially in recent years, with new products and procedures gaining favor and much research into wound care practices being performed. Wound care certification is one way to decrease the risk of a malpractice suit. Becoming a certified wound care specialist can not only make you a more valuable employee, but can protect you from potential legal problems stemming from improper wound care.
Never Events. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2016. https://psnet.ahrq.gov/primers/primer/3/never-events
Chizek M. Wound Care and Lawsuits. Advance Healthcare Network for Nurses, 2003;5(7):31.
Fowler E. (2010). Deposed: A Personal Perspective, Legal Issues in the Care of Pressure Ulcer Patients: Key Concepts for Healthcare Providers, Medline.
Fife CE, Yankowsky K. Avoiding Legal Pitfalls for Home Health Services in Wound Care. Today’s Wound Clinic 2013;7(4).
Thank you for making us aware of the dangers of negligent wound care. True, there are many in medical professional practice who don’t care to study the wound, take time to clean the entire wound without neglecting the undermining, depth of wound, health of the tissue, to make sure the wound is healing the way it should without leaving any room for fissures to form etc… I know patients with decubitus die of MRSA sepsis. why? I am a retired RN who is also electrical engineer…. I am very structured in my approach. I cannot tolerate heartless people in medical field who humiliate the patients who are dependent on them for care by neglecting them, by keeping them ignorant of their progress. We need dedicated people to enter into this specialty. We want a healthy community.
Thanks for posting!
Thank you for this article. I like the reality of it. Too many of the providers I know are about volume and forget that ALL the blanks need to be filled in.
I recently had shoulder rotator cuff repair in which I had an additional wound on my shoulder. I was not told of this and found out about it after I changed the dressings. I had no idea what caused this and its very painful it looked like I had a gouge in my skin. In my follow up visit I brought it to my doctor’s attention and he advised me that it was a skin tear from taking the adhesive tape off and that it is normal with surgery. The tear occurred on my tattoo and a portion of the tattoo was pulled off and a skin flap was there that has since reattached. He told me it’s not a big deal to let it go that it’s healing. Is this normal? I am very upset about this it hurts And I feel like he was trying to minimize my pain and the injury and make me feel guilty. Half of it hurts and the other half (skin flap) I have no feeling at all.
April, I would recommend getting a second opinion if you have concerns. Without pictures or knowledge of treatment, we cannot properly judge symptoms, treatment, or outcomes. Hope this helps!
I used a scalpel to remove hard skin under my foot
Being diabetic it never really healed.
I had 2 debridements and was referred to a wound care sister for dressings. I was put in a vac dressing machine
I had been going to her 2 times a week for dressings and I noticed that my big toe was swollen and the top of my foot inflamed.my surgeon told me that any change for the worst I’d probably need more antibiotics
I told her that I think I should see my doctor but she was adamant that there was nothing to worry about. I also complained that the bandage was rough against my ankle and was chaffing.
The third or so time I went after my complaints the top of my foot had developed a new wound and under my foot was looking bad. I contacted my surgeons rooms to speak to him,but he had a patient and would phone me back ,a few hours later I phoned again only to be told he had an emergency,but he took my number and would call me. After the fourth time and two days of trying to get him I left it becausei the next day i had my one month appointment with the doctor checking my diabetes and showed him photos of my wounds from the previous day
He immediately phoned my surgeon ,who said he was unaware that my foot had got worse. Which I don’t know how to take as he was getting photos and a report from my wound care sister after each of my visits
To cut a very long story short j was admitted to hospital for 15 days during which I had 3 operations ,first one to clean up everything. Then infection so bad my big toe and partial foot amputated and 3 was an abscess that had developed from the bandage chaffing below my ankle.
Am I wrong to feel that I had been neglected.?
My sister had a cancerous lesion removed and suffered incredible pain for weeks….turns out it got infected…a culture should’ve been ordered and it was not….they just kept telling her it would heal….meanwhile she is suffering incredibly with pain day and night…excruciating..
Unnecessary suffering because of medical negligence.