| Last updated on November 20, 2023
Whether it’s placing an IV-line, checking vitals or administering life-saving treatment: patient care begins with the skin.
Preventing and saving skin from reactions, tears and antimicrobial burns is much easier than treating them, yet many healthcare professionals find themselves having to choose between compromising skin integrity and providing patients with the treatment they need.
Sometimes patients - even the tiniest of pediatric patients - are subjected to multiple pokes, pulls and adhesive applications directly on top of skin that’s already been irritated, cracked or torn. For patients with sensitive skin, this can be particularly traumatic.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Fortunately, along with skin safety education, gentle medical technology now exists to make patient skin health a priority, while also preventing the irritation and burnout that comes with frequent dressing changes.
In this article explore:
- What is skin integrity?
- Why is skin integrity important?
- How to maintain skin integrity in the hospital setting
- Protecting patient skin from triage to discharge
What is skin integrity?
Patient care begins with the skin - and maintaining skin integrity is critical in order to protect patients from developing infections, injuries and trauma that could cause setbacks to healing.
So - what is skin integrity?
Skin integrity refers to skin that is sound, complete and in unimpaired condition.
In other words: skin integrity is intact when the skin is not broken, and not irritated by skin ailments such as rash, sores, wounds, etc.
Harmful bacteria that live in liquids, wastes, on surfaces, or on other people, have a greater chance of entering the body and the bloodstream through skin that is weakened in some way.
As such, skin that has been broken (cut or damaged) or weakened by injuries, illnesses, or sticky medical adhesives that cause damage to the skin when removed, is at greater risk of becoming infected.
Why is skin integrity important?
The skin is the body's largest organ and serves as the first line of defense against infections and other harmful external factors.
Skin acts as both a barrier and a weapon against invading organisms because healthy skin tissue contains specialized immune cells that combat harmful microbes.
There are many health conditions that may weaken skin integrity, including nutritional ailments, vascular disease issues, and diabetes.
Also, some forms of cancers and cancer treatments can also weaken the integrity of the skin.
Breaches in skin integrity can have severe consequences. Hospitalized patients who are often already compromised are particularly at risk of skin-related injuries, leaving them susceptible to infections as well as undue pain and discomfort.
It’s therefore critical for healthcare providers to have the right tools and technology to prioritize and protect patient skin integrity.
Maintaining skin integrity in the hospital setting
Healing shouldn’t hurt, yet even routine medical treatments like changing an IV dressing can cause unnecessary pain, discomfort, compromise patient skin integrity, and lead to infections.
One of the highest priorities of medical teams in hospital settings should be protecting patients from preventable injuries and infections that can cause them more harm, longer hospital stays, and even possibly severe setbacks to healing.
Patients of all ages can develop skin infections while in the hospital.
The patients at greatest risk of serious health complications caused by infections are those who are the most vulnerable: NICU and pediatric patients, cancer treatment patients, and the elderly.
As such, hospital acquired skin injuries should be prevented whenever possible using gentle and compassionate technology designed to protect skin integrity.
Hospital acquired skin injuries
Some hospital acquired skin injuries include:
- Skin injuries due to pressure sores
- IV leaks causing extravasation of the skin and surrounding tissues
- Medical adhesive related skin injuries (MARSI)
While pressure sores have long been recognized as a significant concern for patient safety, MARSI has not received the same level of attention.
MARSI is a growing concern in healthcare, with 98% of registered nurses indicating that skin tears were “common” to “extremely common” among their patients.”
MARSI can cause significant discomfort, pain, and lead to infection, resulting in prolonged hospital stays, increased healthcare costs, and decreased patient satisfaction.
The cost of treating medical tape related skin injuries adds up. Once a skin injury is discovered, time is needed for medical documentation, nursing care time, treatment application, physician consultation and caring for patients during a lengthened healing period. Specialized medical supplies and medicine like antibiotics are also sometimes needed to care for the wound.
While many clinicians view skin damage from medical dressings as inevitable side effects of using medical tape, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Healthcare associated infections
In addition to hospital acquired skin injuries, there are many other forms of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) that patients and health workers try to protect against.
HAIs are the most common complication in hospital care, and one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the USA.
Quite apart from the psychological burden of stress and worry that patients experience while in the hospital, HAIs are also extremely expensive – for individual patients, and the healthcare industry.
An estimated $28 to $33 billion in excess health care costs each year are attributed to HAIs that cause prolonged hospital stays and require additional medical intervention to treat.
Protect patient skin from triage to discharge
Preventing and saving skin from reactions, tears and burns is much easier than treating them.
If there’s one sticking point when it comes to dressing changes, it’s the cringeworthy trauma that harsh acrylics and chemicals cause on fragile skin.
At Covalon, we believe that dressings shouldn’t bring patients to tears and healthcare providers to accept complications as inevitable. Healthcare providers can now give their patients freedom from the stinging, tearing, irritation and setbacks that traumatic medical dressings can cause on patient skin with gentle silicone adhesives designed to protect and preserve the skin.
Covalon’s CovaClear IV is a clear silicone adhesive dressing made without antimicrobials and designed to keep patients safe and skin protected - no more adhesive removers, no more apologies. It’s quickly becoming the number one calm, compassionate skin saving solution for clinicians needing dressings made for sensitive skin.
For patients who require antimicrobial defense in their dressings, IV Clear is designed with antimicrobials embedded throughout the entire surface area of the dressing. IV Clear provides antimicrobial protection without chemical burn or irritation. It’s soft silicone adhesive gently secures devices to the skin, while reducing trauma upon removal.
Take the CovaClear IV challenge and experience the difference yourself! We’ll send you a free sample to put CovaClear IV head-to-head with any other dressing you have on-hand on your unit today!
Experience what atraumatic removal really feels like. Request your free sample today!
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Hygiene and emollient interventions for maintaining skin integrity
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Medical adhesive-related skin injuries
Katherine is Senior Director of the Clinical Affairs Department at Covalon Technologies which works directly with clinician, patient, and caregiver stakeholders to offer innovative compassion-driven solutions.