New scanner technology brings help to those suffering from bedsores

Published: Jan. 26, 2017 at 4:12 PM EST
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Actor Christopher Reeve died of complications from a bedsore, or pressure ulcer, in 2004, and hundreds of thousands of people have died similar deaths since then. Now a sub-epidermal moisture, or SEM, scanner that can detect bedsores before they’re visible is in trials here in the US and some of its technology came from the Mars Rover.

Laurie Rappl has been in a wheelchair since breaking her back 36 years ago.

"In those 36 years, I’ve had four deep pressure ulcers. Deep meaning they went all the way through the skin, and through the muscle down to the bone," said Rappl.

Laurie took a year in bed to recover each time. Bedsores form when pressure on soft tissue blocks blood flow and they’re hard to detect because they start on the inside of the body.

"So the damage occurring underneath the skin surface, you can’t see it, but this can," said Martin Burns, the CEO of Bruin Biometrics.

Bruin biometrics’ SEM scanner measures increases in moisture under the skin; a warning sign of inflammation and potentially, pressure ulcers.

"When you take a series of readings over the site that’s at risk for developing an ulcer, we can give you a calculation that says that patient has tissue that’s compromised," said burns.

Wound care specialist Henry Okonkwo is running a trial of the scanner. He gets readings in a second and anything under point-six is fine.

"It’s not a subjective assessment; it’s actually an objective assessment. That makes a huge difference in your ability to decide to make good clinical decisions on how you should intervene," said Okonkwo.

The scanner can detect cases four to ten days before ulcers appear.

"A device that could tell me that what i was doing was working or that what i was doing wasn't working and you better jump on it right now is a game changer," said Rappl.

The SEM scanner is being used in the UK, Portugal, Spain and Canada and its dropped incidents of bedsores from five percent to zero in some hospitals, saving tens of thousands of dollars.

This could be significant in the US, where it can cost up to 152,000 dollars to treat one patient with bedsores for a year. Bruin Biometrics expects to file with the FDA early this year, making the scanners available by years end.



TOPIC: SEM Scanner for Bedsores

REPORT: MB #4207


Bedsores or pressure ulcers are injuries to the skin and tissue underneath as a result of constant pressure on the skin. They most often develop on the skin that covers bony areas like the heels, tailbones and hips. People who have a high risk of developing bedsores are those with medical conditions that limit their ability to move and change positions, such as someone on bedrest or restrained to a wheelchair. Bedsores develop fairly quickly and are difficult to treat. Several things can be done to help prevent them and assist with healing.



There are four stages of bedsores. One and two usually heal within a few weeks with appropriate care for the wound, while three and four are more difficult to treat. Caregivers can reduce pressure by repositioning a patient every 15 minutes to an hour for a wheelchair and every two hours when confined to a bed. You can also reduce pressure by using support surfaces like a special cushion to help a person lie in the appropriate position and relieve any pressure on sores. It’s important to clean the wound and apply dressings, regularly changing them to help with the healing process. A doctor may decide to remove the tissue using different methods, including surgery if necessary. Patients may also be prescribed drugs for pain management, or negative pressure therapy may be suggested (applying suction to a clean wound).



SEM-Scanner is the first portable, hand-held wound assessment device that detects early-stage pressure ulcers and deep tissue injury. It assesses changes in sub-epidermal moisture(below the skin), a biophysical marker associated with early stages of bedsores. SEM has been found to indicate tissue damage three to ten days before visual skin damage appears. Patients on average spend another 6-10 days in the hospital due to pressure ulcers, but with this new technology it would allow hospitals to catch signs of developing bedsores and prevent them, saving time and money for both the hospitals and patients. It would lower the cost of care, because prevention via intervention costs less than treatment of bedsores.



Scott Stachowiak