More needs to be done to provide better wound care and prevent amputations, says Dr Desmond Bell, a podiatrist who specializes in wound management and lower-extremity preservation.
Not only would patients immensely benefit from better care, it would also save the healthcare system a huge amount of money, delivering a win-win for everyone.
Dr Bell is the founder and president of the ‘Save a Leg, Save a Life Foundation,’ an organization dedicated to a reduction of lower extremity amputations and improving wound healing outcomes.
As he explains on Kevin Lamb’s podcast In Our Hands, wounds are generally a symptom of far more underlying serious conditions such as diabetes and peripheral arterial disease. If they are not dealt with promptly and properly they can require the amputation of the limb, turning a simple problem into a much worse one.
The life expectancy of people with chronic wounds, particularly those caused by diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, is far worse than most forms of cancer. Many people suffering from chronic wounds also suffer from depression because they become socially isolated.
At present, however, there is a huge lack of understanding amongst healthcare providers and the public about the dangers of chronic wounds, how to prevent them, and what outcomes they can lead to if not treated properly. If patients were better educated, Dr Bell says, they would not only be able to take steps to prevent complications arising, they would also be able to demand better treatment from their medical providers and insurers.
Right now, however, amputation rates are rising in the US and so is the number of people with diabetes, putting them at high risk for developing wounds. The tragedy is that much of this could have been preventable by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Dr Bell first became interested in wounds as a teenager, when he worked as a hospital orderly in the summers during his college years. He recognised early on in his career that proper management of chronic wounds, especially on the lower extremities, was lacking in the United States and after studying podiatry he decided to focus all his attention on providing better wound care, setting up a wound centre in Jacksonville, Florida.
He started his Save a Leg, Save a Life Foundation to teach home health nurses about wound care, and it has since evolved into a non-profit organisation with a mission to reduce unnecessary, lower extremity amputations, and to improve the quality of life of people afflicted with chronic wounds. The aim is to not only increase awareness and educate healthcare providers and patients, but also to get them all engaged in pushing for change.
Dr Bell says that the Covid pandemic has been a particular challenge for wound care because fear about the virus has kept people from seeking treatment. In many instances this has delayed treatment which has sometimes led to amputation, a situation which could have been preventable. One of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been the adoption of telemedicine in wound care, which he thinks will ultimately improve the ability to look after patients.