The Future of Anaesthetics

Friday 8 May 2009

Two young designers, May Wilson and Jonathan Allott, have won a prestigious RSA Design Directions award for their work predicting what the future of healthcare could look like.

Going in to hospital for an operation represents a supreme act of trust and a key element in this process is the anaesthetist, whose job it is to sedate the patient and take over all life functions during surgery that could not otherwise be survived.

The RSA's brief was to imagine how healthcare, and the role of the anaesthetist in particular, might change in the future and to explore the opportunities for innovation in this vital process.

May Wilson’s (Loughborough University, Aircraft Medical Award £7,500) future-focused thinking took as its starting point the particular needs and risks involving obese patients. With the World Health Organsiation prediciting 700 million obese people by 2015 worldwide, she wanted to concentrate on the risks obese patients would face in surgery such as increased respiratory resistance and airflow limitations.

Future of Anaesthetics - May Wilson 

Patients with large neck masses make it difficult to identify anatomical landmarks and so her proposal for a graphical display of the anatomy on the patient’s neck, allows the anaesthestist to make an accurate judgement on the location of the trachea. It combines with a portable display showing the location of veins and artieries so any obstructions can be identified before surgery and sonar technology allows distances to be detected acoustically to prevent over incision and damage to the tracheal wall.
 
Jonathan Allott’s (The University of Nottingham, The Aircraft Medical Award for Design of £1,500) action research, involving doctors and patients, identified drug administration as a function of the anaesthesia process much in need of attention.

Future of Anaesthetics - Jonathan Allott 

His proposal illustrated a quick, electronic labelling system, requiring little effort from the anaesthetist, whereby the information from the ampule is transferred automatically onto e-paper once the syringe begins to fill from it. Jonathan’s research indicated that even by today's standards, the technologies used are low cost and likely to drop even lower in the future. He foresees one minor change only to the existing syringe design so he predicts that manufacturing can remain largely the same and could be used in conjunction with existing barcode system.

Commenting on the winners, RSA Head of Design, Emily Campbell said:

"Wilson, and Allott demonstrated once again how much designers have to contribute to technological medical advances in terms of making devices communicative and legible to users. The RSA is proud to honour these outstanding examples of ingenuity and judgement in young designers who continue the long history of our student design awards." 

Download the full press release containing winning designs (PDF, 155KB)  

View gallery of winning entries for RSA Design Directions 2008-09