Image of pressure map

Employee’s idea empowers patients in wheelchairs

Have you ever struggled to make a good idea into a reality? That was the situation Tamara Vos-Draper, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, was in when she had an idea to help prevent pressure ulcers — a serious condition that many of her patients have experienced. That is, until she teamed up with Mayo Clinic's Center for Innovation (CFI). With their help, Vos-Draper was able develop a method for her patients to get real-time information on their mobile device that may help them prevent pressure ulcers.

Image of pressure map

"The idea absolutely came from my contact with my patients," says Vos-Draper, who works in the Wheelchair and Seating Clinic. "I work with many individuals who have had pressure ulcers and I've seen poor outcomes because they didn't have specific tools to manage their care.

The Wheelchair and Seating Clinic uses pressure maps to monitor patients who come in—but Vos-Draper says this isn't ideal for patients who live far away. She envisioned a model where patients could use pressure maps to monitor themselves at home, allowing them to be more proactive in preventing pressure ulcers. But the current technology posed a problem — pressure maps used in seating clinics can cost anywhere from $6,000-12,000. Patients needed a pressure map that was not only affordable, but also easy to use.

Vos-Draper learned about CFI's Connect, Design and Enable grants for innovative projects and decided to submit her idea. "It was just an idea — I didn't have a detailed plan sketched out and I didn't know if it would work," she says. She received a grant and began working with CFI, the Biomechanic Lab the Physical Medicine and Rehab Spine Team to make her dream a reality. "I had to pinch myself. It's been an incredible experience. It's hard work, but what an opportunity."

Challenges included finding a mat that was durable and safe enough to be used on a wheelchair all day, figuring out how to wirelessly transmit data from the sensors in the mat onto a device and then providing that information in an easy-to-understand format. The resulting app provides real-time data about how the patient's weight is distributed on the chair. Patients are able to see any high-pressure spots and then reposition themselves accordingly. Patients can also send data to their care team.

"Sometimes patients question a spot but aren't sure what to do or if they should be seen. So they wait a week, and the sore gets bigger and bigger," says Vos-Draper. "With the app they can email a map to their specialist and say, 'Hey, something looks funny. I'm not sure what it is, should I come in and have it checked?' "

Right now, the app — which is still a prototype — is going through clinical trials. Patients who've used it have given very positive feedback. "They're really enjoying being able to have access to their pressure maps," says Vos-Draper. "It was hard convincing some of them to send the prototype back."

Vos-Draper says she can't wait to take this app to the next level and get it into the hands of patients. "I've seen patients who are frustrated, scared and missing out on work or their kids' activities. Some have spent years in bed, just because of a sore. If we can give them one more tool that they can use at home, my hope is that we can reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers."