London-developed tool zeros in on diabetic foot ulcers

(Photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc. / jirsak)

A new screening tool developed by St. Joseph’s Health Care London could reduce the number of diabetes-related amputations across the region.

The primary care diabetes support program (PCDSP) at St. Joseph’s partnered with the South West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to come up with a standardized screening, assessment and referral tool for family doctors. The tool helps to identify red flags in patients that could lead to devastating foot ulcers.

“The end game is early identification and effective intervention of those at risk of diabetes-related foot ulcers,” said Betty Harvey, a nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist with the PCDSP. “Once a person has a foot ulcer, it becomes a significant concern requiring much care and a great expense to the health care system. We know that close monitoring can reduce amputee rates by 40 to 85 per cent. Our goal was to design and implement a tool for the assessment and referral of individuals at low, medium and high risk for a diabetic foot ulcer that would be widely used and shape the care provided to these patients.”

Foot ulcers are a complication of diabetes that can lead to infection and possibly amputation of the limb. Half of all limbs amputated in Ontario are diabetes-related. Nearly 70 per cent of diabetic limb amputees won’t survive past five years, according local health care officials.

Using the new screening tool, doctors look for signs of danger including numbness in ten spots on the foot and for deformities such as calluses, bunions, and hammer toes. The patient is then assigned a score based on their foot condition and sensation. Based on the score a patient could be referred for preventative care and close monitoring, that could stop a potential foot ulcer from getting worse.

Word of the new standardized screening tool comes as Diabetes Awareness Month kicks off this month. World Diabetes Day is November 14.