Byline: PAT HAGAN
PATIENTS with leg ulcers could soon be given an appointment with a mobile phone instead of a doctor. A new study shows medics can diagnose the ulcers and chronic wounds just as well when images are taken on a camera phone and emailed to them.
The breakthrough could mean many elderly patients get the diagnosis and treatment they need without having to leave home.
Nurses carrying out domestic visits take a picture of the wound using their mobile and forward it to a specialist at the hospital.
Research shows the images are good enough for doctors to be able to determine how bad it is and what therapy is needed.
The latest results, published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, provide another example of how high-tech mobiles can be used by doctors.
Staff at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Wales, are trialing picture phones in a bid to cut down treatment times for patents with broken or fractured bones.
When a specialist is not available to make an instant diagnosis, junior doctors use mobiles to take a snap of the X-ray and email it straight to a consultant's phone.
The technology has been useful for difficult or multiple fractures, where a highly-trained eye is needed to interpret X-ray results.
Now a team of researchers from the University Hospital of Geneva has discovered phones can also save money by reducing the number of patients visiting hospital.
They studied 61 people with leg ulcers to see if they could prevent them having to go to a clinic to see a doctor. Leg ulcers are usually caused by poor circulation of blood and are often due to diabetes, cardiovascular disease or tumours. Surgery and blood clots can also be to blame.
As the skin becomes deprived of oxygen, it can crack and form wounds that fail to heal. These need regular care that may involve cleaning the wound, giving drugs to reduce inflammation and changing dressings.
Some ulcers need an operation to improve blood flow or to cover the hole with plastic surgery.
Regular inspections by a specialist are vital to limit the risk of infections and complications. But getting to the clinic can be an ordeal for many patients.
The Swiss researchers gave a group of doctors images of ulcers and wounds taken by a camera phone and asked them for a diagnosis and recommended treatment.
A separate group of doctors examined the same ulcers in person. The results were analysed and the two groups were almost identical in their assessments.
Their research report said: 'We show that telemedicine for chronic wounds is feasible using new generation mobile phones and email.'
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