Living with the pain and inconvenience of venous leg ulcers is a challenge Nurse Navigators Joanne Irons and Lisa Sansee are helping hundreds of patients say goodbye to.
Mrs Irons, who has worked as a Nurse Navigator for three years at Princess Alexandra Hospital, said Nurse Navigators focused on moving patients beyond managing symptoms to healing their wounds.
“Venous ulcerations are open, painful sores on the skin found on the lower leg. We act as a bridge between the community and hospitals, liaising with other care providers on the patient’s behalf to improve their treatment,” she said.
“Once patients get into the navigator system, we give them the correct dressing plans and access to the best medical and surgical knowledge available.
“We have the expertise to provide a proper assessment of the veins and arteries and provide treatment for varicose veins that assists with blood flow to the legs. We also work closely with vascular surgeons to provide the patient quick access to hospital treatment if needed.”
Lisa Sansee, the Venous Leg Ulcer Nurse Navigator based at QEII Hospital, said helping her patients manage and heal their wounds was the most rewarding part of her role.
“Venous leg ulcers are chronic conditions. Often people will have them for months, years, or even decades. It’s wonderful I can support a patient to recover in the comfort of their own home.”
Mrs Anna Toth, who sought treatment for her leg ulcer through the Nurse Navigator service, said being healed has made an immeasurable difference to her quality of life.
“Nurse Navigators have changed the way I am living. I am healed and pain free because I got help from the right person with the right knowledge and the right products.”
Mrs Irons said a key part of healing patients was ensuring they had access to the right dressings.
“There is no reimbursement for wound products, so often primary healthcare physicians are applying dressings that aren’t appropriate, and the patient is still paying for that ineffective treatment.
“We have developed an agreement with a large wound care products supplier to enable patients to have access to the right products at a lower cost, so once they get into the navigator system, we give them correct and affordable dressings to resolve the wound.
“In Mrs Toth’s case, she was seen by her GP three times a week for six months prior to seeing us. We saw her subsequently twice a week for 10 weeks and she has healed in that timeframe.
“The difference between the GP applying inappropriate products and not healing her, and us healing her is the GP spent $2,500 more than we did on dressings over time and unfortunately she still had an ulcer.”
Ms Sansee says she helps up to 20 patients each week.
“We get referrals from the Director of Vascular and he will triage patients out to us. We then go out to patients’ homes, GP clinics, and Residential Aged Care facilities, and we work with patients and their carers, or with community or General Practice Nurses – whoever is responsible for working directly with the patient’s dressings,” she said.
“We also get internal referrals from inpatient departments and we will follow up with individuals who could benefit from our intervention externally.”
Mrs Irons said the impact of untreated ulcers on a person’s quality of life could be significant, so investing in resolving wounds sooner rather than later made sense from a physical, social and mental health perspective.
“It’s good for the patient to have us because they have someone to call who will take ownership of the process – we are committed to resolving their symptoms within months. In one case, a patient had been seeing their GP once a week for four years with no resolution of symptoms and we were able to heal the wound in the space of 3-4 months without seeing them any more frequently.”
For more information or to access the VLU Nurse Navigator service visit: www.metrosouth.health.qld.gov.au/referrals/nursing/venous-leg-ulcer-nurse-navigator/nurse-navigator