HL20: Diane Whitworth, RN—Eliminating Pressure Ulcers

Carrie Vaughan, December 13, 2011

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Diane Whitworth, RN, CWOCN.

This profile was published in the December, 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "It was a matter of realizing we did have an opportunity here and it was an issue across the country. And that we need to have the focus on what we can do here to make a difference."

Diane Whitworth, RN, CWOCN, began her healthcare career about 30 years ago as a candy striper—"back when candy stripers actually delivered patient care, such as helping patients eat and take a walk," she says. She then worked as a certified nursing assistant before starting her career as a wound ostomy and continence nurse roughly 22 years ago. During the past six years, Whitworth has become a champion in the nationwide effort to prevent hospital-acquired pressure ulcers.

"As I started seeing more and more pressure ulcers, that is what drove me," she says. "But in the back of my mind, I had my grandfather, who in his 80s, had to lose his foot because of a pressure ulcer." Her grandfather fell, fractured his hip, developed a pressure ulcer on his foot (which is common), and ended up having to have an amputation, Whitworth explains. "At the time it was an acceptable practice," she says. "Even being in healthcare, I thought, 'Well, that is one of the hazards of falling and breaking a hip.'"

In 2006, there were 503,300 pressure ulcer-related hospitalizations and pressure ulcers were the primary diagnosis in about 45,500 hospital admissions—up from 35,800 in 1993, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. About one in 25 patient admissions with pressure ulcers as the primary diagnosis ended in death, AHRQ says. In addition, pressure ulcers are the second most common patient safety incident with a development rate of 36.05 incidents out of every 1,000 hospitalizations and HAPUs cost the healthcare system roughly $2.6 billion to treat, according to HealthGrades Seventh Annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, which was released in March 2010.

Carrie Vaughan Carrie Vaughan is a senior editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at cvaughan@healthleadersmedia.com.

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