Making Operating Rooms Safer With Open Communication Between Equipment
By Beth Potier, Media Relations
February 14, 2007
New research at UNH aims to make hospital operating rooms safer by opening
the lines of communication between computerized hospital beds and blood
“We’re trying to get pieces of equipment that don’t
normally talk to each other to do so,” says John LaCourse, professor
of electrical and computer engineering. “We’re doing something
that we feel is going to save peoples’ lives.”
In modern operating rooms, major pieces of equipment like beds and monitors
are computerized, yet they lack the ability to share information with
each other. When a bed is raised or lowered, for instance, a patient’s
blood pressure fluctuates but the monitor, which is static, may give
a faulty reading.
“Can we have some kind of control in this existing environment?
Absolutely,” says LaCourse, noting that operating room personnel
can mentally calculate a more accurate reading. “But we want double-fault
controls because there are peoples’ lives at stake. Our primary
objective is to reduce the 98,000 annual death rate caused by medical
errors.” LaCourse notes that miscommunication between operating
room instruments may be a cause of these errors.
LaCourse is principal investigator on the project, working in conjunction
with Bedford company IXXAT, Inc. and Massachusetts General Hospital in
Boston, where it is part of a larger initiative called Operating Room
of the Future. Two of LaCourse’s students, senior Jeff Ojala and
master’s student Jonathan Waters, are leading most elements of
the investigation. The team is looking to calibrate the invasive blood
pressure monitor based on changes to a patient’s elevation and
angle as the surgical bed changes position.
The researchers are exploring the use of CANopen, a communications protocol
that uses a common hardware and software packages while maintaining the
integrity of the proprietary electronics of each element. It’s
been used in the automotive industry for many years, creating interfaces
between the various computerized elements of cars that are manufactured
separately. In the ultra-competitive environment of medical devices,
however, CANopen has not been installed.
“The most challenging part of this project has been trying to
get information from the manufacturers, who are trying to protect their
rights,” says LaCourse. In his lab, two medical beds from competing
manufacturers sit side-by-side; the researchers must carefully guard
operating information that’s unique to each of them. “We
don’t want to infiltrate their privacy or their patent privilege,” he
Ojala and Waters are now moving their research into what LaCourse calls “closing
the loop.” If they want the patient’s blood pressure to stay
steady, at say 140 over 90, can they program the bed to automatically
rise and fall to maintain that blood pressure? “We’re trying
to see if we can not only get the bed and the monitor to talk to each
other but also control each other,” says LaCourse.
Ultimately, LaCourse hopes to demonstrate that this “plug-and-play” technology
can be adopted by all electronic instruments in operating rooms: Beds
and blood pressure monitors as well as ventilation systems, ultrasound
monitors, and electrocardiogram monitors will have CANopen software installed
by the manufacturers. Doctors and medical personnel will simply push
certain buttons for certain procedures instead of manually or mentally
calibrating the instruments to each other as they now must do.
And as the aging population brings more computerized medical equipment
into homes and other less formal caregiving settings, such interoperability
will become even more crucial. “Doctors and other medical professionals
don’t have the time to help these instruments communicate with
each other. They have more important things to do,” says LaCourse.
For more information on this project, go to http://www.ece.unh.edu/biolab/hof/.