Images of post-surgery wounds captured by patients on smartphones could potentially catch risky infections quickly, according to new research.
These ‘surgery selfies’, taken by patients at home and then assessed by clinicians, could help with identification of infections and help to provide the care needed more quickly and efficiently.
Edinburgh University researchers have discovered a link between this process and a reduced number of GP visits, as well as improved access to advice among patients who took them.
Currently, a large proportion of global deaths occur within 30 days of surgery, with infections from surgical wounds being associated with more than a third of deaths after an operation, according to the research.
Additionally, on average surgical wound infections cost the NHS an extra £10,000 per patient because of longer hospital stays, readmissions after going home and the extra treatments needed.
Researchers said that the ‘selfies’ have the potential to help combat these issues by managing surgical patients’ care while they recover and reduce pressure on the NHS.
Commenting on the research, Ewen Harrison, Professor of Surgery and Data Science, University of Edinburgh and research lead, said: “Our study shows the benefits of using mobile technology for follow-up after surgery. Recovery can be an anxious time for everybody.
“These approaches provide reassurance – after all, most of us don’t know what a normally healing wound looks like a few weeks after surgery. We hope that picking up wound problems early can result in treatments that limit complications.
“Using mobile phone apps around the time of surgery is becoming common – we are working to scale this within the NHS, given the benefits for patients in continuing to be directly connected with the hospital team treating them.”
As part of the trial, researchers randomised 492 emergency abdominal surgery patients to see if these photos and questions on infection symptoms could catch infections early.
One group of 223 patients were contacted on days three, seven and 15 after surgery and directed to an online survey.
The group were asked about their wound and any symptoms they were experiencing. They were then asked to take a picture of their wound and upload it to the secure website.
A member of the surgical team assessed the photographs and patients’ responses were checked for signs of wound infection. They followed up with patients 30 days after surgery to find out if they had been subsequently diagnosed with an infection.
A second group of 269 received the routine level of care and were contacted 30 days after surgery to find out if they had been diagnosed with an infection.
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Researchers found no significant difference between both groups in the overall time it took to diagnose wound infections in the 30-days after surgery.
However, the smartphone group were nearly four times more likely to have their wound infection diagnosed within seven days of their surgery compared to the routine care group.
Additionally, the group using smartphones were found to have a reduced number of GP visits as well as reporting a better experience of trying to access post-operative care.
The research team said they plan to conduct a follow-up study to determine how this can be best put into practice for surgical patients around the country.
Artificial intelligence will also be used to help the clinical team in assessing the possibility of wound infection, they said.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, there have been big changes in how care after surgery is delivered,” said Dr Kenneth McLean, Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, and study co-lead.
“Patients and staff have become used to having remote consultations, and we’ve shown we can effectively and safely monitor wounds after surgery while patients recover at home – this is likely to become the new normal,” he added.