By Mackenzie Collins
When Christopher Reeve, a Hollywood actor and quadraplegic, died in 2004, it was of complications from a pressure ulcer after an equestrian accident left him paralyzed nine years earlier.
His celebrity status gave him a platform for spinal cord research and around-the-clock care. How is it then, that someone like Reeve, TV’s Superman, dies from a bed sore?
For Reeve, it was a matter of enduring sustained periods of time in a wheelchair or bed without repositioning his body to prevent pressure. Patients who are paralyzed or unable to move on their own are especially susceptible to developing such infections.
The issue of pressure ulcers is a major and common concern for patients and health care providers.
Tyler Leeper, a UW-Madison graduate student and semi-finalist in the 2008 Governor’s Business Plan Contest believes his product, ProactiCare, is the solution to a preventable problem.
ProactiCare is a monitoring system to not only alert care providers when a patient needs to be repositioned to prevent pressure ulcers, but it also provides documentation that such care was in fact administered.
These ulcers or bedsores form when prolonged pressure slows circulation to an area of the body and the surrounding cells die, leaving a sore or infection. Once formed, pressure ulcers are incredibly difficult to treat, and add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs, according to Leeper.
According to Leeper, it’s estimated that each year 60,000 patients die from complications resulting from pressure ulcers. What’s alarming still is that nearly all cases of these sores are preventable, he says.
The prevention starts with an effective monitoring system, which is what ProactiCare provides.
ProactiCare is essentially a mattress overlay, containing sensors that monitor the pateint’s position in the bed. The system sends regular alerts to care providers, either by beeper or cell phone to alert them when it is time for the patient to be repositioned.
The system is unique in its ability to report back the care provided. It would be easy for an alert to reposition a patient to go ignored, Leeper said. But ProactiCare’s sensors also monitor the response of an alert. These measures are documented in easy to read reports, serving as proof as to whether or not the action of moving the patient was carried out or not.
This is crucial when it comes to the second kind of cost that care facilities are facing, this time from the state.
As of October 2007, Medicare announced it would no longer cover cases of preventable pressure ulcers. This gives the state the right to refuse to reimburse hospitals for costs of treatment for the sores.
“Nursing homes and hospitals, in cases of negligence, are guilty unless they can prove they are innocent,” said Leeper. “Our system provides that accountability in terms of proof that they did in fact provide all the care necessary. It’s an incredible tool to defend against legal action and regulatory penalty.”
Though the company is still young, he said reactions so far from the medical community have been positive.
“They realize how big of a problem this is,” he said. “This is a huge problem, and a very simple, yet effective solution. They get very excited.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people are currently in pain for a problem that is preventable. ProactiCare provides that solution through providing a patient monitoring system that brings accountability into our nursing homes and hospitals to prevent pressure ulcers and falls.”
Collins is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.