Issues Involved in Amputees' Use of Artificial Limbs

HRD-81-144: Published: Sep 22, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1981.

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Three Congressmen requested that GAO study the problems which amputees encounter in adapting to prosthetic devices. The Congressmen were especially concerned that many amputees may endure years of frustration and pain because the prosthetic industry may have fallen behind the times, medical personnel may not learn proper surgical procedures, or prosthetic practitioners may not receive adequate training.

GAO found that the amount or length of suffering accompanying an amputation differs by individual. Patients' reactions to amputation can be affected by the reason for the amputation, their age, and their general physical and mental health. Experts interviewed told GAO that various conditions contribute to patient suffering, some of which cannot be prevented by surgery or prosthesis. For example, surgeons told GAO that daily stump changes, weight-bearing pressure applied to soft tissue, and the weight of the prosthesis often cause problems. Adequate data were not available to determine whether amputees routinely experience avoidable pain or to assess the effectiveness of efforts by health-care providers and the Federal Government to assist the amputee. GAO concluded that the information obtained indicated that much was being done for the amputee, but it did not show that existing medical and prosthetic knowledge is capable of eliminating all amputee pain.

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