New technology designed to eliminate the problem of painful, potentially dangerous and costly bedsores is being tested in hospitals here.
The new wireless device is able to detect the pressure sores up to ten days before they appear on the skin's surface, giving clinicians time to treat them before they become problematic.
Pressure ulcers are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin, and most commonly develop on skin in bony areas of the body, like heels, ankles, hips and tailbone.
Long-stay hospital patients who are confined to bed and people who suffer from reduced mobility are at increased risk of developing the problem.
If left untreated they can become very painful, can lead to blood infection, and even death.
It is estimated that as well as causing great discomfort and distress to patients and their families, bedsores cost the Irish health service €250 million a year to manage.
Last year nearly one in ten serious medical events in Irish healthcare institutions was related to late-stage bedsores.
Traditionally pressure ulcers have been identified through visual inspection by care-givers and treated using established protocols.
However, often by the time the sore is visually apparent and spotted, much damage has already been done, making it more difficult and time consuming to treat.
"The challenge with the visual assessment is that we can't see what is going on under the skin," said Professor Zena Moore, Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
"So really when we see it, the question for us is is it a manifestation of something going on deeper, or is it something actually that is confined to the outer layers?"
But using technology developed for the NASA Mars lander, a company in the US has produced a wireless device which is capable of seeing bedsores up to ten days before they break through the skin.
The handheld SEM Scanner, from California based Bruin Biometrics, detects increases in subepidermal moisture which is a biophysical marker of damaged skin.
The device has been the subject of research carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Naas General Hospital, where it has been tested on patients.
47 patients took part in the trial, and the hospital found that on average the scanner picked up pressure sores 3.9 days sooner than visual inspections by nurses.
"This really is important, because we know that if we can intervene earlier, that we can either reverse this or prevent this damage from occurring, which is really important from a pressure ulcer perspective," said Gillian O'Brien, Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Tissue Viability at Naas General Hospital, who led the study.
She said: "Because once you have a break in the skin ... it can significantly effect a patient, particularly if they are trying to rehabilitate to get home."
Although the devices cost around €15,000, other Irish hospitals are reportedly considering trying the technology.
"We're trying to make it very very cost effective," said Martin Burns of Bruin Biometrics. "So the way we've priced it is that one of these units, if you were just to buy one, would be the equivalent of saving just one pressure ulcer."