by Kara Baskin, MIT Sloan News Office
Foot ulcers are one of the most devastating and common complications of diabetes. Patients frequently lose part or all of their foot, resulting in limited mobility and loss of independence. Until recently, though, there wasn’t a simple way to prevent them.
“Amputations happen so frequently, and it’s largely avoidable,” said Podimetrics, Inc. co-founder Jonathan Bloom.
To combat this, the Somerville, Mass.-based company developed a monitoring system to help patients detect ulcers before they form. The company’s wireless SmartMat detects as many as 97 percent of ulcers an average of five weeks before they present clinically, according to a 34-week, multi-center study that appears in the July issue of “Diabetes Care.”
Think of the mat as a scale: Patients simply step onto it for 20 seconds every day. The mat detects temperature differences between the feet at various locations, looking for hotspots and inflammation that could indicate the development of an ulcer. It’s simple to incorporate it into a daily routine, too. According to the study, 86 percent of patients used the mat at least three times weekly, and 88 percent reported that it was easy to use.
Bloom began his career as an anesthesiologist and frequently performed amputations on diabetic patients. The experiences inspired him to launch the company alongside classmates in 2011 while participating in a MIT Hacking Medicine hackathon and attending MIT Sloan. The group was later the audience-choice award winner at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition Pitch contest. (Co-founders David Linders and Brian Petersen also attended MIT Sloan.)
“The primary goal is for patients to use this as a daily regimen and to partner with their physician. They have a chance to prevent a foot ulcer and avoid amputation,” Bloom said.
It’s a big step up from previous methods of detection, he said. In the past, patients used hand-held temperature probes to measure their foot health. Patients, many of whom struggle with mobility issues already, had to monitor several spots on the foot and meticulously track each temperature. It was difficult to adhere to a daily regimen and hard to gather reliable patient-reported data.
In contrast, the SmartMat gathers data that is sent to the cloud and analyzed by Podimetrics. If the temperatures are higher than those advised by the patient’s physician, a HIPAA-compliant program then notifies the patient’s healthcare provider to stage an intervention. Usually, patients simply need to stay off their feet; sometimes, a visit is warranted.
The remote-temperature monitoring technology has received Food and Drug Administration clearance and is currently in about 650 homes. Podimetrics has partnered with various Veteran’s Affairs hospitals to distribute the mats. Now, bolstered by this validating study, they hope to partner with more private health plans.
“Once a patient starts to lose their foot and are wheelchair-bound, it can be devastating on a patients’ life. It has to get better,” Bloom said.