Forget the gauze and tape — new smart bandages may soon tap into the cloud to deliver real-time updates to your doctor on the state of your wound.
That’s the goal of novel wound-therapy research from scientists at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, who are pioneering an electronic-based system for wound care that can share important details immediately with your healthcare provider.
The robo-bandages contain miniscule sensors that can monitor how quickly a wound is healing or report on any delays in healing or interventions that are needed.
“That intelligent dressing uses nanotechnology to sense the state of that wound at any one specific time,” Marc Clement, professor at Swansea University and Chairman of the Institute of Life Sciences, told the BBC.
The smart bandages would report their analysis through a regular broadband network and are designed to monitor an array of physical attributes.
“It would connect that wound to a 5G infrastructure and that infrastructure through your telephone will also know things about you – where you are, how active you are at any one time,” said Clement.
Help for a Growing Problem
The innovative wound-dressing approach, which Swansea researchers hope to have under clinical trials within the next 12 months, would mark a significant boost to the millions of patients enduring a chronic wound, including 6.5 million people in the United States alone.
Scientists have called chronic wounds “a major and snowballing threat to public health and the economy,” and economic estimates peg the annual treatment costs in excess of $25 billion. Also, as the American population ages, more people are expected to suffer from chronic wounds, which would accelerate spending significantly.
The smart-bandage technology could help doctors assess wounds more efficiently and intervene as appropriate should any challenges arise.
“You combine all of that intelligence so the clinician knows the performance of the specific wound at any specific time and can then tailor the treatment protocol to the individual and wound in question,” said Clement.
An adaptable approach makes sense, particularly with the changing nature of wounds. Gaining real-time feedback would equip medical providers with a new tool to improve their patients’ outcomes.
“Traditional medicine may be where a clinician might see a patient and then prescribe the treatment approach for a month or three months,” said Clement. “What the future holds is a world where there’s the ability to vary the treatment to the individual, the lifestyle and the pattern of life.”
In the United States, more people are living with a wound or ulcer that requires ongoing treatment than with several common types of cancer, including breast, colon or lung cancer. People living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, face an increased risk of developing a wound that requires extensive care, and statistics show that up to 16 percent of diabetic wounds result in an amputation.
Clement believes that 21st-century technology can help boost the efficacy of the perhaps not-so-humble bandage.
“Sometimes we revere doctors so much that we tell them all is well but all of the evidence is there before them in this 5G world, so the clinician and patient can work together to address the challenge,” said Clement.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.