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Foam Mattresses May Reduce Pressure Ulcers, Hospital Costs

 |  By John Commins  
   August 16, 2011

Hospitals that invest in pressure-redistribution foam mattresses in the emergency department could save money in the long run by reducing the burden of pressure ulcers among elderly patients, according to a study in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The study -- Early Prevention of Pressure Ulcers Among Elderly Patients Admitted Through Emergency Departments: A Cost-effectiveness Analysis – estimated that the cost associated with buying the mattresses would be an additional 30 cents per patient per bed sore episode, while the savings from preventing bed sores would be about $32.

A claims-based study conducted by Millman, Inc. on behalf of the Society of Actuaries found that in 2008, pressure ulcers cost an estimated $10,288 per error and $3.858 billion total. Pressure ulcers—the most frequent type of expensive error—were most often preventable, the authors wrote.

Ba' Pham of The University of Toronto, the study’s lead author, told HealthLeaders Media that installing pressure-redistribution mattresses won’t solve the bed sore problem, “but it helps.”

“It’s just a fact that people don’t make the link between the risk of a hard surface to bed sores,” he said. “They’re not paying attention to the problems. Obviously changing the mattress is not the full solution, but it is probably contributing to reducing the burden.”

Every year, approximately 6.2 million hospital admissions through EDs involve elderly patients at risk of developing pressure ulcers. Studies have found that approximately 6% of patients admitted through the emergency department acquired pressure ulcers within 48 hours of admission.

CMS will not reimburse hospitals for the cost of treating hospital-acquired pressure ulcers, which it considers a “never event.”

Pham’s research studied the cost-effectiveness of pressure-redistribution foam mattresses on ED stretchers and beds for early prevention of pressure ulcers in elderly admitted emergency department patients. They found that early prevention was 82% likely to be cost-effective.   

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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