University of Chicago Medicine's 'Countdown to Zero' program slashes pressure injuries by 83%

University of Chicago Medicine award
UChicago Medicine put a spotlight on improving patient skin injuries. From left, Jenny Sala, Kathleen Hudson, Susan Solmos, Foluke Omosule and Marianne Banas pose with their award from 3M. (Image: University of Chicago)

When staffers at University of Chicago Medicine wanted to take steps to address patients' skin injuries, it was critical to start with a baseline that paints a clear picture of the task at hand. 

Susan Solmos, R.N., heads the hospital's "Countdown to Zero" program, which targets skin injuries, and she tells FierceHealthcare in an interview that her team "really got down and looked at … all of the evidence" before launching the program. 

"You really need to know what your issues are and your particular challenges," Solmos says. "Where in particular do you struggle in your organization?" 

University of Chicago Medicine
UChicago Medicine launched 'Countdown to Zero' in 2014. (UChicago Medicine)

These analyses can hit snags, she says, as different areas of care have different complexities—for example, what works for pediatric patients may not work for adult patients.

But digging into data to establish a clear starting point will pay off, she says, as it did for UChicago Medicine, which has reduced pressure injuries by 83% since "Countdown to Zero" launched in 2014. 

The 805-bed academic medical center was recognized for its work by 3M, which awarded the hospital its annual 3M Award for Excellence in Skin Safety last May. 

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Leslie McDonnell, 3M's vice president of global marketing, praised the program in an announcement, saying the hospital is one that understands "the importance of skin integrity in patient care." 

The "Countdown to Zero" program aims to reduce the number of pressure or skin injuries to zero and puts a strong focus on clinical education. The training takes place in a number of different settings, including as part of new hire orientation and in 30- or 5-minute sessions at patients' besides. 

The hospital also developed computer learning programs to educate clinicians on skin injuries. 

"It does take a lot of reinforcement until it's integrated into the day-to-day," Solmos says. "There's more external pressure in terms of difference areas of quality improvement, so we try to focus on integrating that change into practice—how do we make sure we continue that consistency?" 

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But there is still room for "Countdown to Zero" to grow, Solmos says. 

The program has reduced stage two and higher pressure injuries—where the ulcer is an open wound—but it still working to cut down on stage one ulcers. The "Countdown to Zero" team has also begun to focus on friction injuries and other skin conditions that can lead to ulcers, she says. 

"We just have incredibly passionate nurses about preventing skin injuries," Solmos says.