Design for doctors

Engineers can help doctors perform better and save lives. That’s the conviction professor of physical ergonomics, Richard Goossens, expressed in his inaugural lecture.

Following a horrific car accident, the victim is rushed into the operating room, where the surgeon begins a very complex operation. But halfway through the operation, the surgeon must repeatedly twist his wrist awkwardly and uncomfortably in order to use his instruments. During such life threatening operations, surgeons must at the very least be able to use their life-saving tools correctly and comfortably.

This is one of the many examples of how engineers can help surgeons. One of Professor Richard Goossens’ PhD students discovered that this was a common problem for surgeons in the operation room, so consequently designed special handles that make the instruments easier to use.

Goossens, who is also a professor at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, sees it as his mission to improve the way doctors work. “The field of physical ergonomics focuses on the development of products that are comfortable, efficient and safe. Safety is an aspect we have experience with, and we help doctors with our knowledge. We observe doctors in their own environments. It’s very important to study how a person interacts with a product. This shows if a product works properly.”

Goossens proposes to create a surgeons’ cockpit. “We should treat the operating room as we do an airplane’s cockpit. The airplane industry has a long tradition with safety.”
At the ‘Human factors in Healthcare’ symposium, held in honour of Prof. Goossens inaugural speech as professor at TU Delft, a veteran NASA astronaut and an airline industry safety expert will join the professor in exploring this topic. “I’d like to stress that the doctors are already doing great work and that the equipment is very good,” he adds.
“However with our expertise, ergonomics has the ability to improve the work of doctors.”

Prof. Goossens and his colleagues were already engaged in illustrating the ways in which they could improve how  doctors work, having
previously designed new wheelchairs, distributed questionnaires among cancer patients to help improve our understanding of where the pain comes from, and developed a seat cushion that minimises the chance of one developing pressure ulcers.

Goossens’ Medisign group has also improved the way doctors  examine a womb to determine if there are any problems related to myoma. “Current practice is to fill the womb with water, in order to make a CT scan. But that gets messy and is uncomfortable, because the water leaves the womb quickly. We’ve been working on a special gel and plug that closes the womb. After the scan is taken, women use a special cord – similar to a tampon – to remove the gel and plug in the toilet. This works much better and is more patient-friendly and comfortable than the current method. And that’s what my job is about.” 

‘Human factors in Healthcare’ symposium and inaugural speech by Richard Goossens. 12 November from 9:30-18:00

“Working at a technical university, we of course have full confidence in technology”, says professor Margot Weijnen, with a hint of irony. The power-grid expert from the faculty of Technology, Policy and Management agrees with the other colleagues that improving energy efficiency in buildings (a third of primary energy use) should be high on the list. Not surprisingly perhaps, Weijnen strongly believes in electric transport. Not only because it’s more energy efficient, but also to reduce dust particles in metropolitan air.
The main power producers in her perspective should be Saharan solar farms (concentrated solar power or CSP) and nuclear power. CSP does need a large scaling-up – the current maximum is 300 megawatt for a project in Sevilla. Furthermore Europe needs to invest in long distance power cables (high voltage direct current or HVDC) to bring the solar power into the European grid. She hopes a fleet of electric cars will be able to function as a power buffer with fluctuating inputs from wind.
“But in fact, the whole focus on CO2 is misleading”, says Weijnen. “It’s an end-of-the line solution that deals with the symptoms only. The only way to really tackle the energy issue is through international collaboration.” And there we face immense inequalities. “Asia wants to grow, but they’ll face trouble importing all the fossil fuel they need.” In her contacts with people from China and India, Weijnen noticed a growing awareness of the energy problems in Asia. Weijnen: “We have our habits and comfort. They have more liberty in designing their cities and industries more sustainably. Perhaps we should hope for them to take the lead.”

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