The future of operating rooms

Optimising workflows for effective patient care

10 July 2019

Featured (Left to Right): Professor Vassilis Kostakos, Chapman Wang, PhD candidate, Gabriele Marini, PhD candidate, Ajimon Joy, Nursing Unit Manager, Clare McCarthy, Project Manager
Image: Northern Health iNews

What if we could use data-sets collected from an operating theatre, to create a more effective, efficient and streamlined work environment for medical staff?

This question has been raised by Gabriele Marini, a PhD candidate from the Human-Computer Interaction group, resulting in the creation of the ‘Reliable Operating Room Project’. The work is part of the Smart Hospital Living Lab at the University of Melbourne.

After completing his Master of Computer Science at the University of Pisa in Italy, Gabriele worked as a Research Assistant in Robotics, and eventually found his way to the University of Melbourne, to pursue PhD studies within the Human-Computer Interaction research group. Gabriele’s research is supported by a Data61 scholarship, awarded by the CSIRO.

In November 2018, Gabriele, supervised by Professor Vassilis Kostakos from the School of Computing and Information Systems, partnered with Northern Health hospital, in Epping, to launch the first stage of the study.

In this initial phase, Gabriele developed a complex, indoor localisation system comprised of:

  • Bluetooth Beacons: To be given to surgeons and patients in the second phase of the project. The beacons conform to the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, which is often employed in indoor localisation technologies. These beacons are entirely anonymous – only the identification of the beacon, and the role of the individual is recorded for the purpose of interpreting the data collected.
  • Bluetooth Receivers: To be placed in the operating room, and the adjacent rooms used most commonly during an operation. Generally, one receiver is placed per room unless size dictates more are necessary.
  • Smartphone Application: To aid in data collection and sensing.
  • Remote Access to Datasets: Due to travel distance limitations, Mr Marini also developed a system to remotely access the status of any of his deployed units, for example, should a Bluetooth Receiver be unplugged during a surgery, this can be tracked via the interface he has developed.  

After the system itself was tested and operational, Gabriele has recently been able to move on to the second phase of the project, as he described in an interview for Northern Health iNews

The purpose of the next phase is to track the location and movement of both staff and patients. The resulting data will be used to identify metrics and correlations between patient and staff movements. This set of metrics will then allow us to generate a statistical model to define and potentially predict how well the theatre schedule is going to function in the future.

The final stage, as Gabriele notes, is the period where data will be analysed to contribute to a general workflow optimisation plan, for the benefit of operating staff and patients undergoing surgery at the hospital. Hospital environments are naturally high-pressured, and time-demanding spaces, for all medical practitioners. In a field that relies on the accurate and efficient articulation of detailed, highly-skilled processes, an enhanced strategy to improve the ‘flow’ of everyday work practice could undoubtedly provide great benefits to the medical field, across many units.

In times where automation is developing an ever-increasing presence in many industries, technologically-supported initiatives, like the Reliable Operating Room Project, encourage the collaboration of human practitioners with useful technological support structures, to generate results that could positively impact the quality of life and work practice for surgeons, staff and patients alike.