Chronic wounds pose big health burden, study finds

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Chronic wounds, which do not heal within four weeks, impose a substantial economic burden on Singapore’s healthcare system.

A recent study led by Duke-NUS Medical School and the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) has quantified the national cost of chronic wounds.

They found that these wounds cost Singapore an estimated SGD$350 million per year, equivalent to around 0.07% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This financial toll is particularly significant considering Singapore already allocates 4% of its GDP to healthcare.

The Silent Epidemic of Chronic Wounds:

Chronic wounds are often referred to as a “silent epidemic” because they affect a considerable portion of the global population, causing a range of economic costs due to the need for frequent treatment.

These wounds can lead to prolonged hospital stays, productivity losses, and declining health and quality of life for patients.

Common examples of chronic wounds include diabetic ulcers and pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores. These wounds can be especially prevalent among seniors, many of whom are already dealing with other medical conditions.

The Study’s Key Findings

To assess the economic burden of chronic wounds in Singapore, the research team reviewed health data of citizens and permanent residents who were admitted to both private and public acute hospitals for chronic wounds in 2017. During that year, there were 16,752 such admissions.

The study considered various cost factors, including:

  • The monetary value of hospital beds occupied by patients with chronic wounds.
  • The costs associated with outpatient visits, polyclinic visits, and Emergency Department visits.
  • The monetary value of a decline in patients’ quality of life resulting from deteriorating health.

The approach used in the study equated one year of good quality of life to the mean Gross Domestic Product per capita for Singapore. Consequently, the dollar value of a decline in quality of life was linked to lost productivity caused by chronic wounds.

Collaboration and Data Sources

The research drew data from the Singapore Wound Registry (WR), an initiative established by the Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS) in collaboration with several hospitals and institutions, including the Skin Research Labs at A*STAR.

The WR serves as a platform for assessing the national wound burden, collecting data on wound outcomes, tracking wound management costs, and evaluating the impact on quality of life. It provided valuable insights into outpatient costs and assessments of quality of life for this study.

Future Directions

Researchers and clinicians are keen to address the challenge of managing chronic wounds more effectively. A*STAR is currently developing a data-driven digital platform designed to streamline wound assessment, provide risk stratification, engage patients, and facilitate care coordination.

This initiative aims to reduce manpower requirements and associated costs. The platform’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness will be evaluated in the field of wound management in the future.

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The research findings can be found in BMJ Open.

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