Wound care innovations help providers care for patients
After nearly a decade in the wound care world, I still continue to be amazed, surprised and inspired. It’s been a time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed– getting a front-row seat to innovations, seeing the remarkable commitment of providers, and marveling at the constant effort from all I meet to find ways to do better and more for people with chronic wounds.
As we usher in a new year, it’s evident that the demands on the future of wound care will only grow. Conversations with colleagues at conferences and meetings often revolve around concerns about how to meet growing demands while maintaining the high standards of care that define our profession. The good news is most of us have been looking at what the new year may hold.
We’ve been thinking about the future of wound care and how to meet the challenges ahead. And because the true pulse of the industry lies in the insights shared by those who work tirelessly within it, here is what you’ve told us are the trends you see on the horizon for 2024.
#1. Tapping in to the power of technology to ease provider workloads and improve patient quality of life will increase.
According to the HIMSS Future of Healthcare Report, 80% of healthcare providers plan to increase investment in technology and digital solutions over the next five years. That’s good news for stressed-out providers as a key influencer for tech adoption is its ability to support staff. And that’s a task we can’t ignore.
A 2023 study by the American Nurses Foundation showed that 56% of nurses felt burnt out over the past three years, and 64% said they had great stress. I’d warrant there’s equal or even higher rates of exhaustion among wound care providers. While there is much we can’t change about the current healthcare ecosystem, there’s a lot we can. One of the main things in wound care is to support staff with solutions that help them streamline work load and provide trusted decision support.
Equally important to helping providers (so they can be great caregivers) is finding ways to improve quality of life for patients. I recently saw a fascinating study in Advances in Wound Care about quality of life and patient-reported outcomes measurement (PROM). It has an important message: “Since chronic wounds are almost always a symptom of underlying comorbid disease(s), clinicians must approach patient care holistically by addressing the impact of these diseases on the wound healing process.” Focusing on the patient experience – truly understanding their daily lives and struggles – will ultimately better help us improve their quality of life and outcomes.
#2. Advancing health equity will be an industry priority.
Events of the past few years have highlighted the need for health equity to ensure all patients have equal access to high-quality care. According to the American Hospital Association, more than 1,000 hospitals have embarked on a health equity journey over the past few years. Today’s innovative wound care technologies, especially those that patients and providers can access via smartphone, can play a big role in that effort. Because smartphones are easy to use, and available in most households, more patients who live in rural areas or have difficulty getting to a provider can access care through a wound care app.
However, not all digital measurement systems are created equal; many do not capture the full scope of a wound in people of color (PoC). In 2023, the Northwell Health Lake Success Comprehensive Wound Care Center, led by Director Alisha Oropallo, MD, MS, FACS, FAPWCA, compared the accuracy of our automated wound measurement application (AWMA) when used on patients with dark skin pigmentation versus those with lighter skin pigmentation. The goal was to identify any potential race-based algorithmic biases with the tool, and none were found.
Surface area measurements obtained by the AWMA showed 90.1% agreement with the acetate-based measurements. This result was similar to previous studies using the AWMA on datasets comprised primarily of patients with light skin pigmentation. We presented these findings at the Spring 2023 Symposium on Advanced Wound Care (SAWC), where they generated much discussion and excitement. Going forward, highlighting problems and solutions will become more important in our industry’s quest for true health equity in wound care.
#3. Embracing AI will help shape the future of wound care.
It’s been both concerning and at times amusing to see the rollercoaster of emotions that AI has produced this year. From “it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread” to “robots will take over the world,” we’re hearing it all. Things are starting to change. By 2025, Zipdo reports that “90% of hospitals will adopt AI-driven technology for remote patient monitoring and early diagnostics.”
AI holds tremendous potential for wound care with its ability to increase efficiency, communications, engagement and outcomes. A 2022 article in Advances in Wound Care, Image-Based Artificial Intelligence in Wound Assessment: A Systematic Review, stated: “Artificial intelligence – specifically machine learning applied to computer vision – has presented as a highly accurate and efficient mechanism for assessing the progress of chronic wounds over time.”
Despite the growing body of evidence supporting AI, many in healthcare are concerned about its use. The Washington Post reports that “…the advances are triggering tension among front-line workers, many of whom fear the technology comes at a strong cost to humans. They worry about the technology making wrong diagnoses, revealing sensitive patient data, and becoming an excuse for insurance and hospital administrators to cut staff in the name of innovation and efficiency.”
We can’t let that fear (often of change or the unknown) hinder our adoption of promising tech. Successful wound care programs will always recognize the value of experienced clinicians and focus on AMWAs as decision-support, not a final arbiter of cause or treatment. Busy wound care nurses tell me that the ability to see, document and share information about the progress of a wound is of tremendous value in their busy workdays. It can save them hours a day. Plus, it provides a clear and objective measure of healing through enhanced identification, prevention, and care management. Perhaps most importantly, it helps them to more effectively communicate and engage patients by creating a timely and accurate picture of their progress.
#4. Getting serious about documentation to meet CMS clawback initiatives will surge.
Documentation, that step that supports the who, what, why and when of wound care is no one’s favorite task; but it must be done. There are many reasons documentation is so critical in wound care, from meeting regulatory demands to ensuring best practices. However, one of the most important (and worrisome) for 2024 will be to meet CMS initiative to “clawback” overpayments.
Organizations with robust documentation protocols and reports proving their efforts – especially when supported by data from specialized electronic health record (EHR) platforms – can avoid both headaches and revenue loss. To protect yourself, use EHRs that help ensure accurate documentation, identify opportunities to increase ROI through powerful operational analytics, and prevent lost revenue from compliance issues, claim denials, and missed visits.
Documentation also is key to avoid penalties and fines. For example, Stage III and IV hospital-acquired pressure injuries (HAPIs) are designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as “Never Events.” Failure to properly document whether a patient was admitted with a wound – or steps to prevent one from occurring – can result in millions of dollars of losses for a hospital system. The ability to document the process is key to minimizing potential penalties. Like the famous Nike slogan says, Just do it! (Trust, us, you’ll be glad you did.)
#5. Improving transitional care services and initiatives will expand.
When it comes to the future of wound care, one of the most common topics we hear at conferences involves finding ways to better manage care transitions from home to hospital to skilled nursing to private practice. Of particular importance is ensuring that specialists and providers are connected at each stage of the care journey so they stay up-to-date on patients’ treatment, progress, needs, etc.
Successful care transitions take a combination of technology, proven processes, and people. Technology provides the solution for quickly and seamlessly gathering and sharing information. Specialty EHRs that sync seamlessly with other systems play a tremendous role in streamlining workflow and getting information in real-time to crucial members of the care team.
Platforms like Net Health® Tissue Analytics provide an ideal way to share digital images along the care continuum and with patients. But the technology alone isn’t enough. There also needs to be protocols and processes that highlight when, where and what to share. Plus, every member of the care team needs to commit to using available technologies. While technology is great, don’t forget about good old-fashioned conversations and dialogue. The most successful wound care programs I’ve seen embrace technology while encouraging personal communication.
There will be more in 2024
Are these all the trends to watch in 2024? Not by a long shot; when it comes to the future of wound care there will be so much more, including exciting new therapies and fresh ideas in wound care management. In terms of technology, my colleagues at Net Health tell me to expect exciting solutions focused on generative AI and predictive analytics industry-wide.
The key for providers exploring these new technologies is to ensure they come from a trusted and reliable source, have data to support their use, and are focused on the issues and challenges that are meaningful to the organization. This will help you improve outcomes, better your ROI and streamline workflow for your people. It will be exciting to hear how the year unfolds, and we’ll follow along with you, offering you updates and analysis along the way.
Be sure to check out our in-depth analysis and study of 2024 trends to date this summer. I look forward to seeing you in person at trade shows, meetings, or wherever our paths may cross as the future of wound care unfolds.
About the Author
Lisa Peach is Senior Demand Generation Manager for Net Health. She has held a variety of management positions since joining the company in 2015, including marketing and corporate events. Her positions have given her a wide range of wound care industry insights and experience, especially in areas related to SaaS B2B marketing and wound care products and technology.
Her industry experience has put her on the front lines of industry innovation and expansion giving her insights into the core challenges and opportunities facing wound care providers and the solutions they need to meet demands. Her responsibilities at Net Health include orchestrating end-to-end demand generation strategies for the company’s national wound care customers.