Can a Smart Phone Help My Surgeon?


Everyone is taking photos and videos. I just had a friend video my swimming technique in my pool. Why not take photos of your surgical wounds and send them to your doctor for review? Seems a lot of patients want to do this.

Well, a group of surgeons at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have actually studied post-operative photos from their patient’s surgical wounds. This research group wondered if a patient takes a photo of their wound and their surgeon reviews it, would these photos help direct treatment equally as well as an in-person examination? The results were positive.

While minor or early signs of infection like redness and bruising were a bit trickier to capture by smart phone, more serious changes such as photos of wound drainage, wound separation and skin necrosis (dead skin) resulted in similar medical recommendations compared to an in-person visit. What is more, these wound photos were helpful despite being evaluated without any input from the patient as to the possible co-existence of increasing wound pain, fever or other symptoms. Finally, only a single image was evaluated as opposed to daily images that would ideally include an image soon after the surgery.

Before sending photos of your wounds to your physician becomes routine, several issues need to be worked out:

First, sending any medical information, let alone wirelessly transmitted images, requires special encrypted software usually on the physician’s end to ensure this activity meets all government legal requirements for patient privacy. Most physicians are just now being offered this feature on their electronic medical record systems and are either learning how to use it or considering its purchase.

Second, an additional software system will be required in the physician’s office that will allow tracking of a patient’s wound photos over time with subsequent prompt evaluation and response back to the patient… all with easy documentation. Unfortunately, the expected avalanche of wound photos that will be sent daily to the doctor will likely result in the need for more medical personnel to manage this aspect of postoperative care at a time when physician overhead is being drastically cut.

The good news is that the average smart phone camera does a decent job of capturing the status of a surgical wound and reliable decisions can be made as to how to proceed without requiring a visit to the doctor’s office. And, it is probable that close monitoring of wounds with photos will demonstrate overall cost savings, especially for those patients who have a higher than average risk of developing a post-operative wound infection such as diabetics and those with circulation issues.