Study: Temperature-reading 'smartmat' catches diabetic foot ulcers early

Podimetrics, a startup created during an MIT “hackathon” in 2011, focuses on catching foot ulcers—a complication of diabetes that can lead to amputation—early. The company unveiled data showing its remote-monitoring technology caught a majority of foot ulcers well before they appeared.

A number of factors contribute to the development of diabetic foot ulcers, including nerve damage, which stops patients from feeling small injuries in their foot. A healthy person might change his or her movement or adjust a shoe, but a person with diabetes-related nerve damage will not notice the pain. Repetitive injury over time can lead to an ulcer, and early detection can help prevent an ulcer from forming or getting worse.

American Diabetes Association guidelines recommend that people with diabetes undergo a comprehensive foot evaluation each year. Patients with a history of ulcers or amputations, insensate feet, foot deformities or peripheral artery disease should get their feet checked out at every doctor’s visit.

The Podimetrics Remote Temperature Monitoring System is designed for the ongoing assessment of patients' feet. It relies on the concept that tissue heats up before it becomes a wound, said CEO Jonathan Bloom, M.D. A patient steps on the system's Smartmat for 20 seconds at a time and it measures the temperature difference at various locations on the feet. Specifically, the software is looking for a “hotspot,” or a place where the temperature is persistently higher than in other areas.

A monitoring service alerts patients and physicians when the data show that inflammation may develop. The patient and physician then work together to prevent an ulcer from forming.

“In a real-world setting, when a doctor gets a notification that a patient has a hotspot, the patient will be advised to reduce physical activity for a period to let the developing wound heal or may be asked to come in for a visit in serious cases,” said lead investigator Robert Frykberg, M.D., of the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in a statement.

The 129-patient study, published in Diabetes Care, showed that the SmartMat detected as many as 97% of developing nontraumatic plantar foot ulcers an average of five weeks before they presented clinically. Additionally, 86% of patients used the device at least three times a week, and 88% of them said it was easy to use.

“This is the big part,” Bloom said. “People actually use it.”

“[This] is critical for adherence and ultimately achieving ongoing prevention of [diabetic foot ulcers] and its devastating complications,” he said in the statement.