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The true impact of pressure ulcers

It happens more than it should and often goes untreated. The financial burden is great, but the morale of patients should not be overlooked. Pressure ulcers are a public health crisis that affects patients, families, and hospitals. 

Pressure ulcers (sometimes called pressure sores or bedsores) are a breakdown of the skin and underlying tissue that is caused by unrelieved pressure and results in ischemic injury to affected areas. Pressure ulcers are a feared consequence of immobility, and most commonly affect non-ambulatory hospitalized patients or people with disabilities. These devastating and potentially deadly injuries frequently develop over bony prominences, such as the elbow, heel, hip, back, shoulder, and back of the head.

Understanding the cost of a pressure ulcer

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Quick Facts:

Cost for patients

  • Each year 60,000 patients die as a direct result of pressure ulcers

  • Individuals with pressure ulcers have a 4.5-times greater risk of death than persons with the same risk factors but without pressure injuries.

    • They also have a significant impact on patient morbidity and quality of life. 

  • The cost of individual patient care is $20,000-150,000 per ulcer depending on the severity

  • Development of pressure ulcer increases a patient’s stay by 4-10 days

  • 3-5% of all hospitalized patients are developing preventable, hospital-acquired pressure ulcers

  • Complications associated with pressure ulcers include cellulitis, bone and joint infections, cancer, and sepsis. 

Cost to healthcare systems

Where they happen and who is at risk

  • About 2.5 million people a year suffer from a pressure ulcer

  • More than 1 in 10 residents of nursing homes have a pressure ulcer 

  • Anyone who is confined to a bed or who sits in a chair or wheelchair for long periods of time is at risk.

    • People that are particularly vulnerable are adults over 70, paralyzed, or those suffering from chronic illness such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart failure, or Multiple Sclerosis.

    • The percent of patients at risk is increasing 

Stages of pressure ulcers

  • Stage 1: Skin ulceration and persistent redness.

  • Stage 2: Partial-thickness skin loss of the epidermis and potentially the dermis. The ulcer looks like a shallow crater or blister.

  • Stage 3: Full-thickness skin loss involving the underlying subcutaneous tissue. The ulcer looks like a deep crater. 

  • Stage 4: Loss of skin plus necrosis and damage to the underlying muscle, bone, or other support structures

Acquiring a pressure ulcer during a hospital stay or time in a nursing home should not be as commonplace as it is. It is not the fault of individual providers, but rather the systems for prevention that are currently in place. We must act now to create innovative, systems-based solutions to reduce the effect of pressure ulcers. 

The statistics on this page were adopted from information and materials 

publicly available on the Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality websites. 

Additional Resources:

Check out the links below for more information on pressure ulcers



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