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Catastrophic injuries becoming more survivable with tech advances

Just a decade ago, a firefighter would not have survived suffering burns over 95 percent of his body. Nor would a forklift operator who had sustained a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord trauma and a fractured pelvis. Today, dramatically improved outcomes can be achieved for people suffering these devastating injuries.

Experts say these improvements came about from a combination of factors. First, lessons have been learned from treating a large number of military service people for serious burns, amputations, brain trauma or spinal cord injuries. Researchers and practicing doctors have made discoveries that have improved treatment. Finally, advancements in technology have made certain care and coordination tasks easier.

That's great news for patients, although there are some additional costs which will need to be taken into account. That said, the potential improvement in patient outcomes could mean that costs are higher in the beginning but ultimately lower overall.

There have been some amazing innovations in the treatments available for catastrophic injuries, and more are on the way. Some of them, like laboratory-grown skin grafts specific to the patient's DNA, could be game-changing in terms of preventing rejection of the grafts. Others seem like pure science fiction, such as robotic suits that can be controlled by the brain.

Interestingly, some of the most useful new technology for patients isn't all that high tech. For example, people suffering from spinal injuries have trouble getting dressed, but a device called Pants Up Easy can help. Fitness apps can help wheelchair users stay in shape, or ensure patients take their medication by logging it when they do.

One of the main drivers of these improved outcomes, surprisingly, turns out to be better case management. Cases involving catastrophic injuries need long-term care from a large number of different providers, and that makes coordination and communication critical.

Caring for patients with catastrophic burns or trauma is always a challenge. Their medical conditions fluctuate constantly and can be affected by physical inactivity and depression. They may already have, or may develop, comorbid conditions like obesity and high blood pressure, which can make treatment more difficult.

Patients also come into contact with numerous healthcare and related providers who may not all be on the same page. Doctors, specialists, physical therapists, psychologists, home health workers, transport services, medical equipment suppliers, pharmacists and many others could all be coming and going. They need to agree on an achievable functionality goal and then communicate clearly and consistently with the whole team for as long as the patient is being treated.

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