John Harper

John Harper, PhD, Former Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Acelity (now 3M)

Twenty-five years ago, wound care depended on two core areas: dressings that protected the wound and antimicrobial creams/ointments to control infection and bacteria in the wound. That was essentially it. Dressings had to often be changed daily  - if not more frequently - by a healthcare practitioner. This could be painful for the patient and time-consumer for practitioners. Innovations today have been driven by our improved understanding of the underlying etiology of wounds. Looking ahead, patients will be well-served by progress in the portability, mobility and enhanced convenience of advanced wound care treatment modalities.

Transformations With Negative Pressure Wound Therapy

One of the key transformations in the wound care space that I’ve seen in my career was the introduction of negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT). The vacuum applied to wound dressing with NPWT increase blood flow to the area, as well as draw out any excess fluid from the wound – offering real enhancements to wound healing. Importantly, NPWT reduced the number and frequency of dressing changes needed – a clear benefit to the patient.

Today, there is a range of NPWT pumps and vacuums. Not only has this driven down price of NPWT, but the competition in the marketplace has also driven new innovations focused on patient convenience. While it used to be that patients could only receive NPWT in a hospital or wound clinic, today there are portable NPWT systems for home use and systems that allow a patient to be mobile – in the routines of daily life – while receiving the benefits of NPWT.

The Promise of Portability, Mobility & Convenience

More innovation focused on portability, mobility and patient convenience is where I think we have the most exciting strides ahead in wound care moving forward. NPWT systems evolved from the size of a desk to the size of a desktop computer to the size of a cell phone. Today, cell phones and digital technologies are enabling greater patient convenience and compliance.

Look at wound healing measurements, for example. For many years, wound care practitioners used a physical ruler to measure wound dimensions in terms of how deep and how wide – important dimensions to evaluate healing and follow-ups. Today, we can use digital measurements captured via smart phones to track a wound’s progress. Digital photos taken of the wound by a patient with a cell phone can be transmitted to practitioners. For patients who live in rural areas or a far distance from a wound clinic, this type of telemedicine can have huge convenience impact – as their providers can use digital measurements to track the wound’s progress and determine if a patient does or doesn’t need to come in to the clinic.

There are also scientists and researchers today looking at making hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) more convenient and portable. Today, patients receiving HBOT have to spend hours each week in a contained HBOT chamber at a wound clinic. In the future, much like NPWT has miniaturized and made portable, we may have similar strides with HBOT being able to be delivered via a dressing and a cell phone sized oxygen generator.

Ultimately, these technologies can expand access to quality wound care for patients across the US and globally, and can increase convenience – which, importantly, plays a key role in improving patient compliance with treatment. These innovations are promising for wound care.

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