Beyond the pain and suffering inflicted by COVID-19 around the world, the pandemic has also disrupted many fields of medicine not directly related to the virus. Wound care is one prominent example.
Chronic wounds affect millions of Americans, and treatment costs $25 billion annually. As was the case with many other chronic conditions that tend to affect the elderly and immunosuppressed, in the early months of the pandemic, people with wounds often chose to shelter in place. Nora Sammon, a Wound Ostomy Specialist Manager at Mount Sinai/St. Luke's in New York City, told me that COVID-19 had caused a remarkably large influx of deep injuries.
Chronic wounds require regular cleaning and care to stand any chance of healing. Nora and her team of nurses spent the weeks that followed the easing of lockdown measures treating wounds that had been neglected for months.
Even at the height of the pandemic, wound nurses still had their hands full. Although her hospital began exclusively treating COVID-19 patients, “the number of wound patients was totally off the charts,” Nora told me. Due to proning—lying patients on their stomach to improve oxygenation—many patients developed pressure ulcers, even in uncommon places such as the face and knees.
The nature of the pandemic meant that the already difficult work performed by wound specialists became even more complicated. “It’s very challenging to treat wounds while covered head-to-toe in personal protective equipment,” Nora said. “Wearing PPE means you can’t smell a wound, which is a big part of identifying infection.” Many nurses had themselves been infected or exposed to COVID-19, and were replaced by temporary “traveler” nurses. “It was a whirlwind,” she added.
The tools and techniques used to treat wounds were outdated long before COVID-19. But the pandemic has convinced many clinicians that the time for change has finally come. Nora emerged from her experience with a newfound appreciation of the need for technological solutions that can help solve the challenges of wound care. “I kept thinking that coming out of this, we need technology that will help with the assessment of wounds. We have to be better than this in the future,” she said.
Thankfully, the technology to digitize wound management exists today. Sophisticated imaging techniques requiring no more than a smartphone camera can help clinicians accurately measure and track wounds over time—a vast improvement over the rudimentary methods in widespread use today, which often utilize paper rulers to measure wounds and severely limit clinicians’ understanding of a wound’s progress. Digital solutions also allow for a rotating team of caregivers to treat wound patients—including remote consultations with specialists—all without sacrificing consistency or continuity of care.
Like many other clinicians, Nora was witness to the worst of the pandemic as it ravaged her city. “It was heartbreaking to see patients suffering horrifically, and not being able to have their families visit them,” she said. “The one thing that kept me hopeful was hearing people cheer and bang pots and pans to thank frontline workers every evening at 7:00 PM.”
We owe Nora Sammon and her fellow clinicians the best that technology has to offer—during emergency and calm. Digitizing wound management can be an important step in that direction.