MUHC resident’s app can reduce bed sores: study
Painful bed sores — the bane of existence for many elderly patients in long-term care centres — could become far less common thanks to a smartphone app that was developed by a dermatology medical resident now practicing at the McGill University Health Centre. The app has already proved to be highly accurate in tracking the healing of foot ulcers in patients with diabetes. But new research has also shown that daily use of the app by nurses over the course of a year reduced the incidence of bed sores by 77 per cent at a longterm care centre in the United States. And Dr. Sheila Wang, who invented the Swift Skin and Wound app while in medical school at the University of Toronto, is now testing it on Cree patients in the far north of Quebec for use as a potential tool in telemedicine — the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through the internet. “It’s very advanced machine v i s i o n i n g t e c h n o l o g y, w h i c h was really put into something that is quite simple,” Wang said, describing the app that was designed partly by an engineer who worked on the imaging software for NASA’s Mars Rover. “My goal was and still is to create a tool that is powerful but at the same time really easy to use.” Until now, nurses and doctors have relied on an 18-millimetre paper ruler to measure such wounds in people with diabetes. The ruler method is often inexact and doesn’t describe the irregular size of wounds or how some heal from the middle. Diabetic patients usually don’t get to see images of their foot ulcers, and therefore they don’t know whether their wounds are truly healing, Wang explained. In contrast, the app not only takes pictures of a wound but highlights its evolution in a time-lapsed video, showing dramatic improvement that can motivate patients. The app is now being used to monitor more than 100,000 patients across North America. Dr. Greg Berry, chief of orthopedic surgery at the Montreal General Hospital, swears by the new technology. “Many of my patients are diabetic and are dealing with slow-healing foot ulcers,” he said in a statement.
“This app offers a way to clearly document and quantify the size of the ulcer to ensure it is actually healing, and if it is not healing, I can change strategies.” “I can concretely show them that what we are doing is working,” Berry added. “They get on board and are more devoted to the treatment plan because they see it is successful.” In the U.S. long-term care centre, nurses who used the app discovered that they were able to spot bed sores at an early stage, before the skin started to break. As a result, the nurses performed “offloading,” moving the patient’s body more often on a bed. “They were able to pick up on the pressure ulcers before they got really bad,” Wang said. For now, the app is being used in geriatrics and endocrinology. But the app has also attracted the attention of a wide range of medical specialists — from orthopedics to radiology — suggesting that it may have many more clinical uses in the future.
Dr. Sheila Wang, an MUHC dermatology resident, says it’s highly valuable to be able to accurately track the progression of a patient’s diabetic foot ulcer.