Haptic simulator helps with epidural training

Doctors and academics have developed a simulator designed to help anaesthetists deliver epidurals, a medical procedure involving the injection of anaesthetic between spinal vertebrae.

The simulator has been developed by PhD student Neil Vaughan and Professor Venky Dubey from Bournemouth University’s School of Design, Engineering and Computing, alongside Dr Michael Wee and Dr Richard Isaacs from Poole Hospital.

Software and haptics replicate the conditions of giving an epidural to a real-life patient, allowing adjustments for different heights, BMIs, angles, and rotations of the spine.

The system does this by incorporating a Novint Falcon haptic device connected to a 3D modelled graphical simulation. Novel aspects of the simulator are said to include 3D graphics, 26 modelled vertebrae (cervical and lumbar), and patient variation based on measured data. An immersive 3D monitor with polarized images then allows visualisation from different angles using zoom and rotate.

In use the simulator will be used to help doctors train to do the procedure to improve results and reduce the risk of harm to patients.

Dr Wee, a consultant anaesthetist at Poole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 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.’

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

The project – which aimed to develop a simulator combining a 3D interactive model of the lumbar spine with a haptic needle injection device – has already received international attention.

It has been shortlisted for a number of 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.

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