The High Cost of Bed Sores in Aging Populations An Innovative Solution
By Sharon Gardner
So much for the golden years! Just when you should be enjoying the rewards of your labor, a whole new set of challenges appear, not the least of which are health issues and the high cost (and effectiveness) of medical treatment. One of the costliest medical problems is the prevalence and devastating consequences of decubitus ulcers, commonly known as pressure sores or bed sores.
As reported by Medline Plus (a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health), "Pressure ulcers range from slight skin discoloration to open sores that go all the way to the bone and frequently develop in the tail-bone area and the hips and heels. Pressure ulcers can prolong a patient's hospital stay and be complicated by pain and infection, which can even result in death. Elderly people in long term care are at risk for pressure sores, especially those who are immobile, incontinent, have limited sensation or dementia."
An estimated 2.5 million pressure ulcers are treated each year in acute care facilities in the United States at a cost of about $11 billion. Sixty percent of all pressure ulcers start while patients are hospitalized or in long term care facilities. Most of the affected patients are elderly, and/or have diabetes, vascular disease or spinal cord injury. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, pressure sores are a leading cause of death in people with spinal cord injuries.
Once a pressure sore has started, it can be very difficult to heal. Because circulation, mobility and sensation are already compromised in these patients, healing can take weeks or sometimes years, if achieved at all.
According to the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), August 22, 2006, a review of 59 studies of 14,000 patients verifies the cost of pressure sore treatment is billions of dollars each year. Other studies list the annual cost at 55 billion a year, with the actual product cost in the $11 billion dollar range. The remainder is the cost of nursing, hospital, home health and related secondary costs. This, of course, does not begin to assess the emotional and financial cost to patients and families.
Spending on the elderly consumes 35% of the federal budget. According to the Brookings Institution, by 2015 half of the federal budget will go for programs for the elderly, including Medicare and Medicaid.
"At that point, Medicare spending will be growing at more than 8% a year and Medicaid at nearly 9% - rates that dwarf the problems of Social Security," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office. "Medicare and Medicaid spending triples, maybe quintuples by 2050, while Social Security goes up by 50 per cent."
A huge piece of Medicare and Medicaid expenditures is for treatment of pressure sores. With the graying of America, these costs will only escalate. Until there is a willingness on the part of healthcare decision makers to investigate more effective, less costly treatment for pressure ulcers, these costs will only accelerate.
There are some highly effective low-cost treatments that are already making a dramatic difference in reducing costs of pressure sores. The average cost to treat a large pressure ulcer with certain natural products can be as low as $1 a day, a fraction of traditional treatments. If the spray is soothing, there is no patient resistance, thereby reducing treatment time, pain for the patient and risk of infection.
An article in JAMA (May 2, 1990) by E. L. Schneider and J. M. Guralnik states, "The rapid growth of the oldest age groups will have a major impact on future health care costs… Without major changes in the health of our older population, these health care costs will escalate enormously, in large part as a result of the projected growth of the 'oldest old,' those aged 85 years and above. Medicare costs for the oldest old may increase six-fold by the year 2040 (in constant 1987 dollars)… Successful containment of these health care costs will be related to our ability to prevent and/or cure those age-dependent diseases and disorders that will produce the greatest needs for long-term care."
Healthy Life and Times highly recommends that federal, state and private healthcare providers begin to think beyond traditional expensive treatments and investigate the economic savings to tax payers and the health benefits to the patient by utilizing certain proven natural products.
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