Introduction: Infrared thermography allows the detection of infrared radiation which can be reliably associated with skin temperature. Modern portable thermography devices have been used to identify the location of skin perforators by detecting subtle differences in skin temperature. The aim of this study is to conduct a diagnostic accuracy systematic review to determine the specificity and sensitivity of infrared thermography.
Materials and methods: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted, scrutinising PUBMED and EMBASE databases for diagnostic studies measuring the accuracy of infrared thermography for perforator identification. Article screening, review and data gathering was conducted in parallel by two independent authors. Eligible studies were subject to a formal risk of bias was assessment using the QUADAS2 instrument.
Results: A total of 254 entries were obtained, of which 7 satisfied our pre-established inclusion criteria. These studies reported a total of 435 perforators in 133 individuals. The most commonly investigated locations were the antero-lateral thigh and abdominal wall. Reported sensitivity values ranged from 73.7% to 100%. A meta-analysis demonstrated a cumulative sensitivity of 95%. Specificity was not routinely reported. All studies presented a moderate to high risk of bias according to QUADAS2.
Discussion: Affordable infrared thermography devices are an interesting alternative to traditional preoperative investigations for perforator mapping. They are sensitive enough to reliably identify a large proportion of perforators as “hot-spots”. However, there is limited evidence to estimate the specificity of this technology, as studies have failed to report true negative values associated with “cold-spots”.