It’s common for people with diabetes to experience trouble with wound healing, particularly with difficult wounds such as foot ulcers, which are caused by the breakdown of skin tissue in the feet due to poor circulation and poorly controlled blood sugar. These wounds can go all the way to the bone in some cases and are often accompanied by foul-smelling
If you’re ever treated for a diabetic foot ulcer, your doctor will likely measure the wound to help monitor its progress. But the problem here is that every doctor measures a little bit differently, and the same doctor may even measure slightly differently from day to day.
One of the key ways to assess the status of a foot ulcer is to measure its maximum length and width, which usually involves using a paper ruler. Inaccurate measurement, even if the inaccuracies are small, could be frustrating to a patient who is doing their best to properly care for a wound. Wound measurement may also play a role in influencing your doctor’s plan of action for your ulcer, so accurate measurement is important.
Luckily, however, Dr. Sheila Wang saw this issue as an opportunity to create something amazing. While she was in medical school at the University of Toronto, she enlisted the help of an engineer who worked on the imaging software for NASA’s Mars Rover and invented the Swift Skin and Wound app for the purpose of treating patients remotely through the internet.
The app takes a photograph of the wound and accurately measures the width between the edges of the wound, working well even when the wound is an irregular shape. It then saves these images so they can be compared to later images in a time-lapse video, and the small changes in the wound can be easily seen by both the doctor and the patient.
“It’s very advanced machine visioning technology, which was really put into something that is quite simple,” Dr. Wang said. “My goal was and still is to create a tool that is powerful but at the same time really easy to use.”
And that isn’t the only thing the app is useful for. Experts believe it could also be highly valuable in preventing bedsores, which are pressure-related ulcers. Nurses at a long-term care center found that the app was able to detect bedsores before they broke the skin, allowing staff to move patients more often to offload the weight and keep the sore from getting worse.
Doctors are already seeing great results with this new technology. Dr. Greg Berry, chief of orthopedic surgery and scientist at MUHC, uses it on his diabetic patients and says it helps him make sure the wound is truly healing.
“It takes sometimes months and months and months for the body to heal those ulcers. This progress can be quite incremental, quite slow, and quite difficult for the surgeon and the patient to appreciate. What Sheila’s developed with her app is a way to clearly document and quantify the size of the ulcer to ensure that it is actually healing, albeit slowly.”
If it’s not healing, he can change his method of treatment. And if it is, he can show his patient the evidence and help them become more enthusiastic about the treatment.
You can help keep yourself from developing foot ulcers by carefully controlling your diabetes, getting enough exercising, not walking around barefoot, not smoking, keeping your feet clean, and trimming your toenails regularly. You can also keep small ulcers from growing by inspecting your feet for any wounds and treating them immediately.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?