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UK Researchers Use mHealth to Help Predict Diabetic Foot Ulcers

British researchers are working on a handheld scanner that can detect 'hot spots' in the feet of patients with diabetes, a sign of developing foot ulcers that, left untreated, could lead to amputation and death.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- British researchers are developing a mobile health device that can scan the feet of diabetic patients for ulcers, a serious condition that can lead to amputation and death.

Robert Simpson, of the National Physical Laboratory near London, is leading the team developing the DFirst, an mHealth device that scans feet for hot spots. Those spots often mark the onset of inflammation, which can then lead to ulcers.

Those with diabetes are particularly susceptible to foot ulcers; if left untreated, they can lead to amputation. Roughly 3.4 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes around the world develop foot ulcers, with 1.5 percent eventually requiring amputation.

“If you have an amputation, then unfortunately the outlook is up to 50 percent of those who have an amputation are dead within two years, and up to 80 percent are dead within five years,” Simpson told Voice of America, noting that 80 percent of the 140 amputations per week in the UK are caused by foot problems.

Simpson and his fellow researchers have been working on the scanner for roughly two years, and have developed a handheld prototype for testing. Their goal is to refine the technology down to the size of a smartphone.

The DFirst would give physicians and home health agencies an important mHealth tool, especially for remote patient monitoring programs. Those developing ulcers often require weekly treatment in clinics, along with remote monitoring at home in between those visits.

While telehealth platforms with medical-grade cameras are available, they’re often cumbersome and expensive. In some cases providers are using smartphones to photograph patients’ feet – but those devices aren’t reliable enough to detect ulcers, according to researchers in Australia.

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