Issue 9
Monday, 04 November 2019
Charles Darwin University
Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Professor Dominic Upton
Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Professor Dominic Upton

Research probes psychology of wound care

By Kaye Hall

“Talk to the face not to the wound” is the best advice for health professionals treating patients with significant injuries, according to Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Professor Dominic Upton.

Since 2010, Professor Upton has been researching the psychology of wounds and wound care with the aim of improving healing rates and quality of life for people with significant wounds. Early research compared the impact of traditional dressings to new, silicone-based dressings that do not stick to the skin. 

Based on stress hormone levels, respiration rate, blood pressure and wound healing, the research found that patients’ stress reaction was lower with the silicone-based dressing.

“It’s a well-known fact that stress slows healing,” Professor Upton said.

“Paradoxically, therefore, the care provided by health professionals can slow healing rather than speed it up.

“Someone with a significant wound needs that dressing changed regularly, and if that causes stress, the impairment to the healing is significant – especially if they have the wrong dressing on as well,” he said.

The research found the most important thing for recovery was having specialist nurses who knew what they were doing and placing the patient in the centre of the treatment regime.

“Nurses are often focused on the dressing and not on the patient. They need to talk to the patient more,” he said.

“We always say talk to the face not to the wound.”

But the answer is two-fold. While health professionals can learn to take better psychological care of patients, patients also need to learn how to deal with stress. 

“You need to find your happy place while the dressing is being changed,” Professor Upton said.

This year, he continued his research with the Medical Adhesive-related Skin Injury (MARSI) research group, which includes research psychologist Dr Penny Upton and Clinical Nurse Consultant in the Tissue Viability Unit at Canberra Hospital Ms Anne Marie Dunk. 

The group surveyed 100 Australian nurses and medics with experience treating people with significant wounds such as burns, Venus leg ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers or pressure injuries. The researchers asked about the dressings that resulted in negative outcomes such as rashes or skin tears. The recent MARSI research will soon be published in Australia and the group hopes to take it to the UK and worldwide.

Professor Upton is well published in psychology and health care, with 37 books to his name, including 19 as the editor, 18 as the author along with a further 12 chapters in other texts. Most recently he contributed a chapter to the “Science of Psychology”, a new textbook published by the British Psychological Society.