Application of leading edge technology has always been associated with medical science, research, and the practice of medicine. In recent years, this has included the introduction of robotic technologies and other, computerized, interactive, screen-based technologies in the surgical environment. This is a trend that will continue for many years to come with wide sweeping implications for hospitals, patients, medical staff and manufacturers of these products.
The surgical suite is a very unique and increasingly crowded environment. The members of the surgical team, assorted technicians and manufacturer’s representatives, the patient, the tools and equipment all require adequate space to perform their functions in this highly choreographed atmosphere. Traffic flow has to be maintained in the room and around the patient and equipment, yet mobility is extremely limited. The sterile field has to be maintained at all costs. Precision, accuracy and timing are critical. The surgical team needs clear, unobstructed access to the patient, the tools, and the technology assisting in the procedure.
In many ways, the introduction of computerized, interactive, screen-based technologies and surgical robots has improved the quality of care – particularly with regard to accuracy and precision – for the patient. This leads to smaller incisions, faster healing, and lowered risk of surgical errors and medical malpractice. It has also lead to a more complex work environment for the surgical team. Every member of the surgical team is already fully committed in one way or another without the addition of computers, monitors, robots, etc. Surgeons need both hands to perform surgery, handle cutting tools and retractors, manipulate patient anatomy, etc. Nurses and anesthesiologists are equally busy doing their jobs. Interacting with a mouse and keyboard, a joystick, touch screen or a PDA often isn’t an option. Foot pedals are generally impractical as well and they offer a very limited interaction model. All of these issues have to be considered by the design team.
There’s another big consideration as well: when advanced, interactive technology is introduced into a surgical environment, who is the user? Who are we designing for? The surgeon? Another member of the surgical team? A technician trained to operate the equipment? The patient? What if the answer is all of the above? How does that impact the design of the interface and overall user experience?
Additional complexity for the design team arises in designing interfaces that appropriately guide the surgical team, document and record all associated activities (pre-op, operative and post-op) while maintaining legal compliance associated with patient privacy laws.
Echo Visualization, LLC discuss and identify many of the challenges we have encountered while working in this environment as researchers and designers.