Post-operative monitoring of free flaps using a low-cost thermal camera: a pilot study

S. Hummelink*, A. S. Kruit, A. R.W. van Vlaenderen, M. J.M. Schreinemachers, W. Steenbergen, D. J.O. Ulrich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
125 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Careful post-operative monitoring of free flaps is important in flap survival; immediate action increases flap salvage rate. Although various methods are available, room for improvement remains. Thermal cameras have proven their value in medicine and are nowadays readily available at low costs. The objective of this study was to evaluate the potential of an affordable infrared thermal camera and software in the detection of failing free flaps during post-operative monitoring. Methods: Free myocutaneous rectus abdominis flaps were harvested in 16 female landrace pigs and replanted after several hours of storage. All flaps were assessed with indocyanine green fluorescence angiography as well as hourly clinical assessment of skin colour, turgor and capillary refill. Furthermore, thermal photographs were taken simultaneously with the FLIR One thermal camera smartphone module. These photographs were processed in MATLAB and evaluated on their additional value as an indicator for flap failure. Results: Out of 16 flaps, three flaps failed due to arterial failure and one flap developed venous congestion. The mean flap temperature compared to adjacent control skin proved to be most indicative for flap failure. All unsuccessful flaps showed lower temperatures after failure compared to the uncompromised free flaps. Conclusions: An affordable thermal camera module can potentially contribute to post-operative free flap monitoring. Vascular compromise in free flaps can be distinguished by investigating relative temperature differences between the flap and reference skin. Until the FLIR One camera has been extensively investigated in a human population, it should be used in conjunction with conventional monitoring techniques. Level of evidence: Level IV, diagnostic study

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-596
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Plastic Surgery
Issue number5
Early online date3 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Flap surgery
  • Innovation
  • Smartphone
  • Thermal camera
  • Flap monitoring


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