Robotic Scrub Nurses Could Boost OR Efficiencies

HealthLeaders Media Staff, February 22, 2011

Robotic scrub nurses that intuitively recognize hand gestures? They're not here today, but neither are they the merely stuff of science fiction. One day, surgeons might use gestures to control a robotic scrub nurse or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation.

It's a concept reminiscent of the film Minority Report, observes Juan Pablo Wachs, PhD, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University and one of the brains behind the innovation.

Hand-gesture recognition and other robotic nurse innovations might help reduce the length of a surgery and the potential for infection, according to Wachs. And vision-based hand-gesture recognition technology could have other applications, including coordinating emergency response activities during disasters.

Wachs suggests that a robotic scrub nurse represents a potential new tool that might improve operating-room efficiency; he and his colleagues write about this in the February issue of Communications of the ACM, a publication of the Association for Computing Machinery.

"One challenge will be to develop the proper shapes of hand poses and the proper hand trajectory movements to reflect and express certain medical functions," Wachs explains. "You want to use intuitive and natural gestures for the surgeon, to express medical image navigation activities, but you also need to consider cultural and physical differences between surgeons." Each may have his or her preferred gestures.

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