If you’re one of the 6.7 million Americans living with a chronic wound, you may well be referred to a wound care specialist for treatment. In this article, we’ll explore when you should see a wound care specialist, why proper wound care is so vitally important, and how specialist treatment can reduce the risk of complications and encourage a speedy recovery.
What Do Wound Care Specialists Do?
While most primary care physicians are qualified to treat a straightforward wound, resulting from a day-to-day injury, they may not be the right person to deal with a complex or non-healing wound. In addition to the usual medical training, wound care specialists undergo a rigorous three-year wound care program and written exam. They are, therefore, uniquely qualified in the most sophisticated treatments, techniques, and technologies to help patients recover more quickly from serious wounds.
To maintain their status, wound care specialists also have to secure continuing education credits and periodically requalify for certification. As a result, a qualified wound care professional will be up to date with the latest developments and research into wound care.
During your first visit, your wound care specialist will conduct a thorough diagnostic analysis of your wound, including the cause of the wound and any issues that might be obstructing your healing. You will then be given a customized treatment plan that takes into account your case history and the type of wound, your ability to comply with particular treatments (for instance, physical therapy), and any additional treatments you might require. You will then be scheduled for a series of visits with your wound care specialists, during which your healing will be evaluated, and your treatment modified.
When Should You Consider Treatment with a Wound Care Specialist?
Not every wound needs specialist treatment. In most cases, a simple wound that results from an injury can be treated by a primary healthcare provider. More serious wounds may require treatment in the hospital, followed by recovery at home. And, of course, if you see any signs that the wound is infected, such as redness, increased pain, a bad smell, fever, or swelling, you should call your doctor immediately.
However, certain kinds of wounds are more likely to need specialist treatment. For instance, complex wounds such as vascular ulcers, diabetic ulcers, radiation wounds, various types of traumatic injury, and some post-operative wounds may benefit from treatment in a wound care center.
There are also health conditions that may make it harder for your wound to heal. These include:
- Congestive heart failure
- Vascular disease
- Severe obesity
- Renal failure
- Nerve damage
Certain lifestyle issues may also prevent wound healing. For instance, a poor diet, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and being inactive may also impede your recovery from a wound.
In general, if your wound has not started to heal after 2 weeks, or has not healed completely within 6 weeks, then you should consider visiting a wound care specialist.
What Are the Benefits of Working with a Wound Care Specialist?
For many patients, treatment by a wound care specialist can have a dramatic positive impact on their recovery and quality of life. The key benefits of specialized wound care treatment include:
A Personalized Approach
Unlike a regular clinician, a wound care specialist has the knowledge to develop individualized treatment based on your specific wound, health issues, clinical history, and personal preferences. They will then develop a care plan using this information, to help speed your recovery and healing.
Because the plan has been designed specifically for you, you are more likely to be able and willing to follow it. For instance, a specialist wound care professional could recommend the kinds of dressings that you will be most comfortable with, or take your current mobility into consideration when making recommendations about physical therapy. By contrast, a non-specialist might recommend a more standardized approach that could be harder for you to comply with.
A Reduced Risk of Serious Complications
The incorrect treatment of a wound can be potentially catastrophic. For instance, diabetic foot ulcers are the most common cause of diabetes-related amputations—infected or non-healing ulcers can result in the patient losing a foot or the whole lower part of the leg.
Long-term non-healing wounds are particularly prone to infection. Infections such as MRSA can enter the bloodstream via the wound, resulting in serious illnesses. In the most severe cases, infections can lead to sepsis, a potentially fatal medical condition triggered by the body’s immune response.
Working with a wound specialist is the best way to make sure that your wound receives the most effective treatment. A customized wound care program will be designed to approach your wound healing from multiple angles, such as increasing your circulation, reducing pain, and creating the best environment to promote recovery.
More Advanced Techniques
Wound care centers have access to the latest wound care treatments and technologies that may not be available in a primary healthcare facility. Advanced treatments that may be helpful in treating non-healing or complex wounds include:
- Wound Vac Therapy
Vacuum-assisted wound closure, also known as Wound Vac treatment, involves using a vacuum pump to create negative pressure to seal a foam bandage over an open wound. The pressure pulls the edges of the wound together, promoting healing by reducing swelling, stimulating tissue growth, and preventing infections.
Ultrasound treatment uses sound waves to encourage healing, reduce inflammation and pain, and increase circulation and soft tissue mobility.
- Growth Factor Therapy
Growth factors are chemicals naturally secreted in the body that encourage cell growth. Growth factor therapy involves applying growth factors directly to the wound to promote the growth of wound-healing cells.
In general, wound care specialists take a more proactive, aggressive approach to wound treatment, based on the latest medical findings. For non-healing wounds, frequent debridement (removal of dead tissue) and more active medical interventions may reduce the time to heal and improve the patient’s comfort level.
Perhaps one of the most important roles of the wound specialist is to educate both the patient and their family about how to care for the wound and manage the process of healing. For those with chronic or severe wounds, recovery can be a slow and grueling process. A wound care specialist can offer advice about managing the emotional aspects of recovery, making the best lifestyle choices to promote healing, understanding your wound and how to care for it as it heals, and transitioning safely and easily to self-care.