Epidural simulator project wins IET Innovation Award

Posted on Monday, November 25 2013

A medical device developed by Bournemouth University and Poole Hospital to make epidural injections safer and more effective has received a prestigious innovation award.

The epidural simulator uses software to predict where a patient’s epidural space will be, and helps doctors electronically measure the loss of pressure that occurs when they reach the space, to prevent errors.

It won in the Information Technology category at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation Awards, which received more than 400 entries from over 30 countries.

“We knew that our project is unique as it blends engineering expertise and knowledge of clinicians directly dealing with the problems in their day to day care,” said Dr Venky Dubey, Associate Professor in Research at BU, who is leading the epidural simulator project for BU alongside PhD student Neil Vaughan and colleagues from Poole Hospital.

“We have done this several times in the past, competing with international institutions of repute like MIT and Harvard, but what is unbelievable this time is that we have won it against giant companies vying for this coveted award.

“Honestly, we are shocked to have won this award and so are many others. It’s like winning a Technological Oscar for our hard work”.

He added: “This clearly shows that there is technology gap in patient care for epidurals and the associated safety issues.

“This award recognises our innovative approach that has the potential to reduce patient injury and improve training experience of anaesthetists.”

Epidurals are commonly used to provide pain relief during childbirth, for operations or to relieve back pain, but doctors currently have to rely on experience and clinical training to place the epidurals accurately.

With the increasing obesity epidemic in the UK and challenging patient population, clinical training itself may not be sufficient and there is a potential for complications if the epidural is not inserted accurately.

The epidural simulator developed by BU and Poole Hospital includes software which integrates information such as a patient’s height, weight body shape to present a realistic model for training and enhancing skill-learning for the procedure.

It also includes a pressure monitoring system, which is attached to the epidural needle and alerts doctors to help them detect the loss of pressure that occurs when the epidural space is reached.

Venky said: “By monitoring the procedure electronically, rather than relying on the experience of the doctor, this will improve patient safety.

“The ultimate aim is to have doctors use these devices in practice and trainees use it as a simulator as well. It will give them experience without them having to practice on a patient.”

The IET Innovation Awards celebrate the best innovations in science, technology and engineering and took place at The Brewery, in London, on November 21.

The judging panel for the Information Technology category, in which the epidural simulator was named winner, said: “The standard for the IT Category is always high and this year was no exception. The 2013 winning entry provides an innovative training solution to teach epidural procedure to medical practitioners.”