Body And Skin Temperature Regulation Is Essential For Patient Care And Comfort

Wendy Walker, BSN, RN, CWOCN, CFCN

Wound, Ostomy & Continence Specialist, St. Joseph’s Hospital

Smart Living: One of the most basic aspects of patient care is monitoring the body and skin temperature of patients while they are in the hospital. Why is this so important?

Wendy Walker: Our patients’ temperatures are routinely monitored because increased temperature can indicate systemic infection. It could also indicate a reaction to a treatment.  Patients who have undergone anesthesia can be hypothermic, which means that their temperature is too low, so our post-op patients are closely monitored as well. 

An increase in temperature over 100.9 or a temperature below 98.6, in conjunction with specific other criteria, can signal that a patient is becoming septic. This means their body is having a potentially life-threatening response to an infection and that a quick intervention is needed. 

SL: Besides medication, what else can nurses provide to patients who might be too hot or too cold?

WW: For patients in our critical care areas, our nurses utilize a device called the Bair Hugger, which uses forced air to warm hypothermic patients.  There are also cooling mats that utilize circulating water to cool patients with a high body temperature.  Nurses can also provide blanket warmers or fans for patients who need them to be more comfortable.

SL: St. Joseph’s/Candler recently installed hundreds of new beds in patient rooms. How does the technology in these new beds help with a patient’s skin temperature?

WW: The VersaCare P500 mattresses have ventilation to help keep heat and humidity away from the patient’s skin.  When skin is overly moist, or macerated, it loses its tensile strength, and is much more vulnerable to the forces of friction, pressure, and shear.  But when a patient’s skin is cool and dry, the risk of breakdown is much lower.  The mattress is also a low air loss surface and can distribute the patient’s weight more evenly to reduce pressure, and again lower the risk of a pressure injury developing.

As a nurse on the wound care team, I have ordered specialty beds for patients who already have multiple pressure injuries, or for patients who have had graft or flap surgery. We have also used bariatric beds that make it easier for turning and repositioning. But since the installation of the new beds, the need for specialty beds has decreased.