Thermal imaging combined with analysis using artificial intelligence can help improve wound care for clients being treated at home, research has found.
The research by the Bolton Clarke Research Institute and RMIT, is published in Scientific Reports.
It shows that taking thermal images of venous leg ulcers (VLUs) in a home care setting, and using machine learning to conduct a heat analysis of the surface of the wound, can help predict whether it will heal and how to manage it.
Currently, wounds are monitored by measuring their size via an electronic tracing technique known as digital planimetry.
Thermal imaging, on the other hand, provides information on how heat is distributed across the wound.
Higher temperatures indicate potential inflammation or infection, and lower temperatures be a sign of decreased oxygen and a slower healing time.
The study, which followed 60 Bolton Clarke home care clients in metropolitan Melbourne over 12 weeks, found the thermal approach could accurately predict whether VLUs would heal in 12 weeks.
“What this study has shown is that those mechanisms that can pick up whether a wound is not going to heal versus whether it will heal,” BCRI senior research fellow Rajna Ogrin told Community Care Review.
She says the thermal image method also has the benefit of not requiring physical contact with the wound, which reduces the risk of infection.
“The significance of this work is that there is now a method for detecting wounds that do not heal in the normal trajectory using a non-contact, quick, objective and simple method.”
The home environment
Dr Ogrin says regular wound photography used in conventional methods can be difficult to use in a home environment.
“We know that doing any diagnostic test in the home has to consider all sorts of things you wouldn’t normally consider in a clinic – you mightn’t have the right lighting or temperature or you might have clutter present,” she says.
Nearly half a million Australians suffer from chronic wounds and Dr Ogrin says wound care is one of the main reasons for home care nursing, with Bolton Clarke employing specialist nurses.
“It’s one of the biggest sources of care delivery by our organisation,” she said.
She says the aim for the new technology is to be able provide nurses with a imaging tool that they will be able to use themselves.
“At the moment it’s a fancy piece of equipment but the anticipation is to have something that the nurses would be able to use themselves, such as a mobile phone app,” she says.
The study is the first to investigate textural analysis on VLUs using thermal images that don’t require contact with the wound.
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