Background: Pressure ulcers are associated with substantial health burdens but may be preventable.
Purpose: To review the clinical utility of pressure ulcer risk assessment instruments and the comparative effectiveness of preventive interventions in persons at higher risk.
Data sources: MEDLINE (1946 through November 2012), CINAHL, the Cochrane Library, grant databases, clinical trial registries, and reference lists.
Study selection: Randomized trials and observational studies on effects of using risk assessment on clinical outcomes and randomized trials of preventive interventions on clinical outcomes.
Data extraction: Multiple investigators abstracted and checked study details and quality using predefined criteria.
Data synthesis: One good-quality trial found no evidence that use of a pressure ulcer risk assessment instrument, with or without a protocolized intervention strategy based on assessed risk, reduces risk for incident pressure ulcers compared with less standardized risk assessment based on nurses' clinical judgment. In higher-risk populations, 1 good-quality and 4 fair-quality randomized trials found that more advanced static support surfaces were associated with lower risk for pressure ulcers compared with standard mattresses (relative risk range, 0.20 to 0.60). Evidence on the effectiveness of low-air-loss and alternating-air mattresses was limited, with some trials showing no clear differences from advanced static support surfaces. Evidence on the effectiveness of nutritional supplementation, repositioning, and skin care interventions versus usual care was limited and had methodological shortcomings, precluding strong conclusions.
Limitation: Only English-language articles were included, publication bias could not be formally assessed, and most studies had methodological shortcomings.
Conclusion: More advanced static support surfaces are more effective than standard mattresses for preventing ulcers in higher-risk populations. The effectiveness of formal risk assessment instruments and associated intervention protocols compared with less standardized assessment methods and the effectiveness of other preventive interventions compared with usual care have not been clearly established.