Voice of the patient

The device we are creating at SOMAVAC Medical has the potential to minimize the risk of seroma that is the build-up of fluids after major surgeries like hernia repairs and mastectomies. Surgeons go to great lengths to minimize this risk of seroma and its unwanted complications. The primary approach is the removal of fluids from the newly formed space between tissue layers with a drainage tube that is attached to a suction bulb. The system is considered to be moderately effective since it provides inadequate suction that is at best intermittent. Besides, the bulbs are bulky and they require significant manipulation: 12 steps!  They are difficult to attach to and hide under clothing.

The clinical impact of seroma for a specific surgical procedure, its relation to infection rates, treatment rates are available in clinical and scientific literature. What’s lost in the scientific literature is the voice of the patient. Specifically, the impact of the drains on patients and on their recovery from a major surgery. I feel, if anything, our company is bringing a voice to the more than 650,000 patients who receive drains and then go home to recover in the US each year alone. They may have to maintain the drains more than 4 weeks! We had the privilege to talk to more than 20 patients, survivors, and caregivers combined. I wanted to share with you the three most common comments that I heard from patients and their caregivers.

  • I hated the drain, I knew they were part of the process I just did not want to say anything about them -  Like many of you, Josh and I wonder why we do not have a more user-friendly alternative to JP drains. Part of the answer comes from the fact that patients and caregivers who use drains do not want to talk about the level of their hardship associated with the drains. Their at home experience with the drains remains mostly unreported.
  • The drains prevented me from returning to a normal life - I cannot tell you all of the ways in which this came up over and over. Some patients, this meant not being able to go to work.  For other patients, just remaining dependent to others for the care of the drains was a concern. In some cases, patients talked about missed family events such as birthday parties, graduations, Holiday festivities. 
  • A skilled or qualified person always helped them – In many of the occasions the patients we interviewed began to talk about the maintenance of the drains by saying “[a person/family member] who is a [nurse/dental hygienist] knew what to do, so [he/she] came and helped”. Most often, we were told that there was a caregiver who had some level of medical training. Would it not be preferable that the system was operable by anyone?

Lately, we have been lucky to enough to show our prototype to patients who just recently had drains. By our engineering standards, especially if you ask our CTO Josh, the device is not perfect. But, it is amazingly small and low profile compared to the JP drains. And it has the easy to remove reservoir. So, when I show this device and explain what we are doing to patients who have or had drains, their first reaction is “I am so glad someone is doing this! I hated those drains. They were awful.” Next, they ask specific questions about various features. Every single one of the patients we interviewed said they would prefer our device to what they had! I wish, I could bottle up their reactions. They fuel us! But, most of all I want to thank them. I want to thank them for sharing intimate stories belonging to a difficult time in their lives. Their voice is helping us make a device that is not only clinically relevant but also capable of improving patients' experience at home during recovery. 

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