Hollywood Know-How Makes Good Medicine

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A TRUE-See calibration slate
From and

“Some doctors golf as their hobby,” says Shaun Carpenter, a wound care specialist in Louisiana; “my hobby is to make movies.” But in the process of amateur filmmaking, Dr. Carpenter has stumbled upon a way to improve his medical practice.

Several years ago, Carpenter made a short called Halfway, about the friendship of two boys in New Orleans. Carpenter wanted the film to look as good as possible, so he hired a local cinematographer named Francis James. Along the way, the two men got to talking about photography. Photographs are a crucial part of Carpenter’s clinical practice — the medical team uses them to record the size and colors of wounds and changes in the tissue as they heal. But, he says, “some of the wound pictures were out of focus, they were blurry — the quality was terrible.” When he asked James for advice, James was astounded at how bad the medical photos were: “I looked at what they were doing and I said, ‘Are these the pictures you are using in your medical records?’”

James began working with Carpenter’s team at North Shore Specialty Hospital in Covington, Louisiana. He first attempted to give the nurses more even, diffused light by giving them a jerry-rigged light source on a tall stand. The already overworked nurses looked at him like he was out of his mind. James quickly realized that controlling the conditions of the photography would be impossible. So he began thinking about the problem from the opposite direction: correcting the images afterward.

Borrowing a solution from the film industry, James developed a slate with colored squares and a graduated grid to be placed next to the wounds in the photos. A simple piece of software calibrates the colors in the image and saves it directly into the patient’s medical record. Standardized, color-corrected images mean less reliance on judgment calls and written descriptions. James and Carpenter called the system TRUE-See, and have applied for patents.

Carpenter believes the system is a leap forward in wound care. But unlike a lot of medical innovations, TRUE-See doesn’t rely on new technology — rather, on a new perspective on the problem. They took tried-and-true ideas from the film business and applied them to patient care. “I always joke that in the film industry we treat everything like it’s life or death,” James notes. “If Tom Cruise is waiting on something, it’s life or death. And I looked over at what the nurses and clinicians were doing and I said, ‘How can I make this something you can do? Because you are dealing with life and death. We’re not.’”

→ Has something you learned from a hobby ever helped you solve a serious problem? Tell us in a Comment below.

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