Bernard Ross, CEO of Sky Medical Technology, explores the role medtech plays in alleviating challenges in wound care to enhance healthcare delivery and ultimately, drive a healthier and more productive population.
Around 3.8 million people in the UK alone suffer from wounds according to research from 2017-18. Following the lockdowns and closure of healthcare services during COVID, which left many patients to self-manage their wounds without regular support from healthcare professionals, this number is likely to be higher now. This is not helped by the nature of some wounds which can be very hard to heal, with some patients suffering with their wounds for decades with little or no signs of healing.
Leg ulcers are among the most common form of chronic wound. Venous leg ulcers (VLUs) in particular are the most prevalent type of leg ulcer, making up approximately 80% of all cases. VLUs are chronic skin ulcers that affect the gaiter area. They are caused by damaged or blocked veins in the leg either due to trauma, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, or oedema, limiting and preventing backflow of blood to the heart. This triggers a build-up of blood in the lower leg causing oedema and ulceration.
Burdening patients and healthcare systems
Wounds such as venous leg ulcers (VLUs) disproportionately impact older generations, so as the population ages, so does the burden of caring for wound patients. On a macro level the cost to the NHS annually is a staggering £8.3 billion of which £5.6 billion is management of wounds that fail to heal. VLUs represent more than £2 billion of this annual cost and affect one in 500 people.
Behind these figures, however, are tens of thousands of personal tragedies: wound patients living in discomfort and constant pain; people unable to work thanks to their wounds; individuals having to lead less active lives due to the burden of the condition and feelings of shame and embarrassment.
A growing need for ongoing care
Treatment of wounds is labour intensive and complicated. It relies on a mixture of visits to hospitals or clinics or home visits from nurses, adding to the complexity in the delivery of wound care. Venous leg ulcer patients will be prescribed compression therapy as standard of care to increase microcirculatory blood flow. This typically involves medically prescribed compression bandaging or stockings.
Compression therapy comes in various forms, including four-layer, two-layer, hosiery kits and wraps, depending on the level of compression required for optimal VLU healing, as well as the patients’ preferences. However, compression treatment can be extremely uncomfortable, impacting their ability to adequately adhere – and for some, due to the nature of their pain, they are unable to initially be prescribed compression therapy at all, receiving only light bandaging.
Innovation driving life changing solutions
Innovations in medical technology are enhancing the delivery of treatment in all areas of healthcare. Medtech has the capability to transform how common but debilitating conditions are addressed, helping drive a healthier and more productive population. The deployment of medtech solutions, such as neuromuscular electrostimulation (NMES) devices, has significant benefits. Patients can increase blood flow and when used in combination with multi-layer compression, the rate of healing for VLU increases significantly.
Medtech can also accelerate the rate of healing of hard-to-heal VLUs, and as a result, people need treatment for a shorter time, and faster healing wounds – in theory – reduce the opportunity for infection. Combined, this means nurses and wound clinics can heal more people over a shorter period and – best of all – patients spend less time immobile, uncomfortable, and unwell – which is better for their physical and mental health. This also has the added benefit of contributing to saved healthcare costs.
Investing in a healthier future
With the number of people not working due to sickness at a record high of 2.5 million, more innovation in addressing complex but non-life-threatening medical issues needs to be adopted to help drive additional economic productivity and to ensure that healthcare systems can address medical issues in meaningful and cost-effective ways.
Thanks to the time and dedication of clinical champions, more innovation is being adopted into healthcare systems that transform patient outcomes for the better and enhance healthcare delivery, usually with cost-saving benefits. Utilising medtech, such as NMES devices, is a great example of how successful innovation can take place.
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