New technologies that could improve the lives of people with faecal incontinence were discussed in a workshop run by the IMPRESS (Incontinence Management and Prevention through Engineering and Sciences) network in February. More than 50 people attended, including patients, carers, healthcare professionals, academics and industry representatives.
“We were really pleased that so many patients and their carers came along, as their input was particularly valuable,” said Dr Peter Culmer, IMPRESS Principal Investigator and Engineering Theme Lead for the HTC. “We worked hard to draw in as large a patient group as we could, going through charities, adverts in local media and social media. Twitter actually proved the most effective, and using social media also helped us draw in a wider demographic. There’s an assumption that faecal incontinence is a problem that mainly affects older people, but that’s actually not the case, so it was great to see some younger patients and their carers at the event.”
One of the issues raised on the day was the fact that most faecal incontinence products are designed for older adults, and simply resizing them for use with children and young people doesn’t work. Products such as stoma bags or pads, have also changed little over the years, so application of simple technologies, for example smart sensors and monitoring or use of modern materials, could make a real difference.
Overall patients were very hopeful of the potential impact new technologies could provide, enabling them to live normal lives rather than simply ‘get by’ with the condition. They wanted to see innovations that allow the condition to be assessed, treated or managed in a non-invasive way, and were particularly keen on technologies that were invisible to others but allowed patients to self-manage their condition. Patients were also interested in longer term clinical advances, such as implanting artificial sphincters or material to replace pelvic floor tissue as well as the use of tissue engineering to grow new muscle.
“The event has given us lots of ideas of areas where we could take research forward and look for existing technologies to apply to this condition, as well as longer term projects involving emerging technologies,” said Dr Culmer. “We’re grateful for the time provided by all those attended and look forward to announcing new research projects later in the year.”