Continuity through best practice: design and implementation of a nurse-led community leg-ulcer service

Karen Lorimer
Canadian Journal of Nursing Research 2004, 36 (2): 105-12
The design of the new service was intended to facilitate continuity. The results after the first year of the new service revealed that care was both more effective and more efficient for all types of leg ulcers (Harrison, Graham, Friedberg, & Lorimer, 2003). Healing rates had dramatically improved, the frequency of nursing visits decreased, and supply costs declined. With the new service, comprehensive standardized assessments are made at baseline on all new admissions for home leg-ulcer care, and reassessments are regularly scheduled if the condition does not improve. With the evidence-based protocol, all providers and sectors of care are "working from the same script." Specific information is obtained on the client's health history, leg-ulcer history, preferences, and social context. Continuity is further facilitated through implementation of the primary nurse model, whereby one provider is responsible for developing the care plan and for subsequent evaluation and revision. Management continuity is advanced through health-care reorganization, with the development of an expert, dedicated nursing team, a consistent approach to training and skill development, improved coordination, an interdisciplinary approach for referral and consultation, and continuous quality improvement measures for education and practice audit. A number of strategies tailored to the new service have been highly effective. Strategic alliances among the researchers, home-care authority, nursing agency, nurses, and physicians are essential to the success of both design and implementation. Ongoing interdisciplinary and intersectoral communication expedites the referral process and helps to resolve issues as they develop. The majority of physicians have been very supportive of the use of the protocol and the evidence-based service. Surveys of care recipients have been mostly positive. Nurses who have been surveyed concerning the supports to implementation of the evidence-based service have indicated the following supports: ongoing education, nursing knowledge, a supportive clinical leader, support from two specialist physicians (a dermatologist and a vascular surgeon), a dedicated nursing team, positive outcomes (improved healing rates), and regional home care and agency support. The greatest challenge has been establishing and maintaining the dedicated nursing team. Continuity is served when nurses are assigned exclusively to the leg-ulcer team, where they can continue to build expertise and skills. The nursing agency was initially reluctant to embrace the concept of a dedicated team, as it viewed wound care as a general function of all nurses. Many of the nurses trained in leg-ulcer care fulfilled a number of other specialized nursing functions. This had resource implications for the nursing agency, as other nurses needed training in various other specialized skills. There should be a balance between the size of the population being served and the size of the team, in order to maintain efficiency and sufficient exposure to skilful assessment and management of leg-ulcer care. During the first year of the leg-ulcer service a number of nurses were lost from the team for various reasons, including: outside opportunities for career advancement, the physical demands of this type of care, retirement, moving from the area, and lack of job security. In addition, the volume of nursing visits was decreased because of Ontario government cutbacks in the area of home-care services. New staff members on the team were laid off in the context of a unionized environment. The lack of long-term security and the reality of lower wages in the community sector have played havoc with recruitment and retention. A recently formed committee at the nursing agency on continuity of care, with representation from nursing, management, and administration, has identified a number of further barriers to continuity. These include fluctuating caseloads, difficulty attracting nurses to the community sector, and a unionized environment in which senior nurses displace junior nurses on low-caseload days. Strategies aimed at overcoming the barriers to continuity have been identified and are being implemented. Our experience confirms the need for evidence-based planning in order to understand the needs of the population with leg ulcers, current practices, and the organization of care prior to the restructuring of service delivery. The extensive needs assessment indicated the need for broad system changes in addition to adjustments in clinical care in order to meet best-practice guidelines. Despite ongoing barriers, the service model has improved continuity and dramatically increased the effectiveness and efficiency of leg-ulcer care in one community.

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