Nearly half a million Australians suffer from chronic wounds which, if untreated, are the leading cause of limb amputation and which cost the nation's health system about $3 billion each year.
An Australian study however, has shown that textural analysis of thermal imaging of venous leg ulcers (VLUs) on clients receiving treatment at home, can detect whether a wound needs extra management as early as week two.
The clinical study by Bolton Clarke and RMIT University, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, is the first to investigate textural analysis on VLUs using thermal images that do not require physical contact with the wound.
Researchers found the method, which provides information on spatial heat distribution in a wound, could accurately predict whether VLUs would heal in 12 weeks by the second week after baseline assessment.
This is because wounds change significantly over the healing trajectory, with higher temperatures signalling potential inflammation or infection while lower temperatures can indicate a slower healing rate due to decreased oxygen in the region.
Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Rajna Ogrin said the current gold standard for predicting healing of VLUs - conventional digital planimetry - required physical contact.
"A non-contact method like thermal imaging would be ideal to use when managing wounds in the home setting, to minimise physical contact and therefore reduce infection risk," Dr Ogrin said.
After showing that traditional thermal imaging methods do not give reliable results, the research team developed a new method for the analysis and used this in the clinical trial of 60 participants with VLUs.
"The significance of this work is that there is now a method for detecting wounds that do not heal in the normal trajectory by week two using a non-contact, quick, objective and simple method," Dr Ogrin said.
RMIT University Professor Dinesh Kumar said regular wound photography could not easily be used for accurate measurement of changes in wound size and other physiological parameters over time in the home care environment.
"This is because there are large variations between images due to changes in the lighting conditions, image quality and differences in camera angle across specific points in time," he said.