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Health: Selfies of post-surgical wounds could help doctors spot serious infections early

But first, let me take a selfie! Smartphone pictures of post-surgical wounds could help doctors spot serious infections early, study finds

  • Experts from the University of Edinburgh conducted a trial with 492 patients 
  • One group got normal care, while the other submitted photos of their wound
  • These were then assessed by their surgical team alongside related surveys
  • Selfie-takers were four times as likely to have infections spotted within a week
  • They also had less post-surgical GP visits and better access to relevant advice 


Asking patients to submit ‘selfies’ of their wounds post-surgery could help doctors spot serious infections early, a new study has revealed. 

This is the conclusion of experts from the University of Edinburgh who conducted a randomised clinical trial involving a total of 492 abdominal surgery patients.

Trial participants who submitted selfies also tended to experience a reduced number of post-surgical GP visits and had improved access to relevant advice.

The findings, the team said, could improve the management of post-surgical care and help reduce pressure on the National Health Service.

Experts from the University of Edinburgh conducted a randomised clinical trial involving a total of 492 abdominal surgery patients. Pictured: part of the post-surgical surveyed trialled in the study

Asking patients to submit ‘selfies’ of their wounds (left) post-surgery — in tandem with surveys on their recovery (right) — could help doctors spot serious infections early

INFECTED WOUNDS 

According to the researchers, surgical wound infections are associated with more than a third of deaths in the wake of an operation.

Death within 30 days of surgery is the third largest cause of death globally.

It is estimated that surgical wound infections cost the NHS an extra £10,000 per patient as a result of prolonged hospital stays, readmissions and follow-up treatments.

‘Our study shows the benefits of using mobile technology for follow-up after surgery,’ said paper author Ewen Harrison of the University of Edinburgh.

‘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.’

In their study, Professor Harrison and colleagues conducted a randomised clinical trial with a total of 492 emergency abdominal surgery patients.

One subset of 223 patients was asked on days three, seven and fifteen after surgery to take a photo of their healing wound and upload it to a secure website, alongside filling out an online survey about their wound and any symptoms they had.

Patients’ photographs and survey responses were assessed by a member of their surgical team for signs of wound infection.

The remaining 269 patients, meanwhile, were used as a control group and received routine care only.

Around a month after surgery, the team followed up with all the patients to determine if they had subsequently been diagnosed with an infection.

In their study, Professor Harrison and colleagues conducted a randomised clinical trial with a total of 492 emergency abdominal surgery patients. One subset of 223 patients was asked on days three, seven and fifteen after surgery to take a photo of their healing wound and upload it to a secure website, alongside filling out an online survey about their recovery experience

 In their study, Professor Harrison and colleagues conducted a randomised clinical trial with a total of 492 emergency abdominal surgery patients. One subset of 223 patients was asked on days three, seven and fifteen after surgery to take a photo of their healing wound and upload it to a secure website, alongside filling out an online survey about their recovery experience

At the end of their study, the research reported that there was no significant difference in the overall time that took to diagnose wound infections in the 30 days immediately following surgery.

However, they added, the group who submitted selfies and completed the surveys were almost four times as likely to have any infection diagnosed within a week of their surgery than the members of the control group.

Furthermore, the selfie group were found to have less GP visits and better reported experience accessing port-operative care than their peers who had undergone the routine care regimen.

With their initial study complete, the team are now conducting a follow-up trial to determine how the concept might best be put into practice clinically.

Alongside this, they are exploring how artificial intelligence might be applied to help surgical teams diagnose potentially infected wounds during the recovery period.

‘Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there have been big changes in how care after surgery is delivered,’ said paper author and University of Edinburgh clinical research fellow Kenneth McLean.

‘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.’ 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

HOW TO TAKE CARE OF STITCHES AFTER SURGERY 

If you have stitches, take care to:

  • keep them clean and dry
  • watch out for any increase in redness, swelling or pain

This will reduce your risk of developing an infection, or catch it early.

A doctor or nurse should tell you how to care for your wound. If you are unsure what to do, ask your healthcare team for advice.

Protect your stitches

It’s important not to scratch your stitches; even though they’re strong, scratching may damage them.

You should avoid contact sports, such as football or hockey, to give your wound the best possible chance to heal.

You should not go swimming until your wound has healed and your stitches have been removed.

If your child has stitches, do not let them play with water, mud, sand and paint.

Playing with things like these could cause the wound area to get dirty or sore, or cause an infection.

Children may also be advised to avoid PE at school until their wound has healed.

Signs of infection

Watch out for any signs of infection near or around the stitches, such as:

  • swelling
  • increased redness around the wound
  • pus or bleeding from the wound
  • the wound feeling warm
  • an unpleasant smell from the wound
  • increasing pain
  • a high temperature
  • swollen glands

If you have any of these symptoms, speak to a GP or call NHS 111 for advice.

You could also visit an NHS walk-in centre or minor injuries unit. 

Removing stitches

You will be told if you need to return to a GP or a nurse to have your stitches removed. These are the usual time periods:

  • stitches on your head — you’ll need to return after 3 to 5 days
  • stitches over joints, such as your knees or elbows — you’ll need to return after 10 to 14 days
  • stitches on other parts of your body — you’ll need to return after 7 to 10 days

However, some stitches are designed to dissolve gradually and will disappear on their own. 

SOURCE: NHS

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