Designing trials for pressure ulcer risk assessment research: Methodological challenges

K. Balzer*, S. Köpke, D. Lühmann, B. Haastert, J. Kottner, G. Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work
18 Citations (Scopus)


For decades various pressure ulcer risk assessment scales (PURAS) have been developed and implemented into nursing practice despite uncertainty whether use of these tools helps to prevent pressure ulcers. According to current methodological standards, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are required to conclusively determine the clinical efficacy and safety of this risk assessment strategy. In these trials, PURAS-aided risk assessment has to be compared to nurses' clinical judgment alone in terms of its impact on pressure ulcer incidence and adverse outcomes. However, RCTs evaluating diagnostic procedures are prone to specific risks of bias and threats to the statistical power which may challenge their validity and feasibility. This discussion paper critically reflects on the rigour and feasibility of experimental research needed to substantiate the clinical efficacy of PURAS-aided risk assessment. Based on reflections of the methodological literature, a critical appraisal of available trials on this subject and an analysis of a protocol developed for a methodologically robust cluster-RCT, this paper arrives at the following conclusions: First, available trials do not provide reliable estimates of the impact of PURAS-aided risk assessment on pressure ulcer incidence compared to nurses' clinical judgement alone due to serious risks of bias and insufficient sample size. Second, it seems infeasible to assess this impact by means of rigorous experimental studies since sample size would become extremely high if likely threats to validity and power are properly taken into account. Third, means of evidence linkages seem to currently be the most promising approaches for evaluating the clinical efficacy and safety of PURAS-aided risk assessment. With this kind of secondary research, the downstream effect of use of PURAS on pressure ulcer incidence could be modelled by combining best available evidence for single parts of this pathway. However, to yield reliable modelling results, more robust experimental research evaluating specific parts of the pressure ulcer risk assessment-prevention pathway is needed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational journal of nursing studies
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1136-1150
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 08.2013


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