Epidural simulator project wins IET Innovation Award


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.”

Epidural simulator developed by BU and Poole Hospital will help reduce risk of harm to patients


An epidural simulator being developed by Bournemouth University and Poole Hospital will help train doctors to carry out the procedure – and reduce the risk of harm to patients.

The simulator is being created by PhD student Neil Vaughan and Professor Venky Dubey from BU’s School of Design, Engineering and Computing, alongside Dr Michael Wee and Dr Richard Isaacs from Poole Hospital.

It will use sophisticated software to replicate the conditions of giving an epidural to a real-life patient, and will allow adjustments for different heights, BMIs, angles, and rotations of the spine.

The simulator will be used to help doctors train to do the procedure – an injection into the spine to provide pain relief during labour – to improve results and reduce the risk of harm to patients.

Dr Wee is a consultant anaesthetist at Poole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and visiting professor in BU’s School of Health and Social Care.

He said: “I developed the simulator because there is a need to provide precise training in a delicate clinical procedure which has potential devastating effects to the mother when things go wrong.

“A high fidelity epidural simulator will help to reduce the learning curve and thereby improve the success of epidurals whilst reducing potential harm to the mothers.”

He added: “I decided to team up with Bournemouth University’s School of Design, Engineering and Computing as they have the necessary expertise and skills in developing the epidural simulator.

“The jointly funded PhD studentship is also a great incentive as it is an example of an NHS Hospital working collaboratively and fruitfully with a local university to produce ground-breaking research and products.”

Development of the simulator began in 2010, and it is currently undergoing clinical trials on patients.

The project has already received international attention, and has been shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards – including the National Patient Safety Awards 2013, in the Technology and IT to Improve Patient Safety category, and The Design of Medical Devices International Student Design Showcase 2013.

It will also be part of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) Innovation Showcase in June – competing against Ivy League universities to secure further funding.

BU is the only UK university represented at the Showcase, and will be up against the likes of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr Venky Dubey, Associate Professor in Research at BU, said: “Our team is recognised as world-leading in epidural research by many international bodies.

“It is hoped that these successes will establish Bournemouth University as the internationally-recognised research institution.”

The ASME Innovation Showcase takes place in Indianapolis on June 22 and the National Patient Safety Awards take place in London on July 9.