Snap! Broken bones are one of the most common trauma’s. In half of the cases a fracture does not heal by itself. An operation is then necessary, in which a surgeon screws a plate onto the bone. That is precision work. Due to the lack of accurate measuring equipment, it often happens that a hole is drilled too deep or too shallow. If this is not noticed during the operation, a painful and costly second operation may be required.
The Delft company SLAM Ortho, in a consortium with the hospital Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis and Medical Delta Living Lab ResearchOR, is developing sensor technology for drills. This technology makes it possible for surgeons to drill the correct screw length much more accurately using a laser, resulting in better and faster operations, a lower burden of care and lower costs. The support and subsidy of ‘Project LaserGauge’, as the project is called, comes from the innovation program ZorgTech. The consortium was one of the first six projects to receive a voucher for the further development of a technological healthcare innovation.
The special thing about Project LaserGauge is that it not only tests and further develops the technology, but also maps the entire operation process. This ensures that important elements in the field of safety, reliability, hygiene and reuse are immediately improved in the development of the prototype. It increases the chance that the final product will actually find its way to the operating theater.
In order to map out all steps, the developers of SLAM Ortho accompanied operating assistants and surgeons from the Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis before and during operations. They also participated in the sterilization of used instruments and had discussions with all important actors in the entire ‘journey’ of the device - from purchasing department to IT department.
Due to the developments surrounding corona, they temporarily put the fieldwork on the back burner. They are now incorporating the knowledge they have gained in recent weeks into the further development of a prototype. ”But at important moments we can always switch with the surgeons, in that sense it is an iterative process in which we innovate together with them,” says Bart Kölling, one of the founders of SLAM Ortho. ”This gives us the opportunity to adjust timely and increases the chance that we will soon be able to market a product that actually works well and that meets the needs of the hospital.”
In the final phase of the project, the Medical Delta Living Lab ResearchOR also plays an important role. This phase also depends on the collaboration between the developers and the end users. The sensor system is mounted on a surgical drill, after which surgeons test it on an exercise bone. The entire operation process is simulated from start to finish. The findings are compared to a baseline measurement to map the actual benefits of the technique. The intention is that these results will be shared in a scientific article and included in the further development of the prototype.
“With a scientific publication we open up the findings to reviews from third parties and we also help other hospitals,” says Daphne Wijffels. She coordinates the project on behalf of the Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis. ”And when the product finally makes it to the finish line, scientific validation helps to market it.”
“An opportunity,” Wijffels describes the innovation program ZorgTech. ”The process to get from a good idea to an actual care solution is often long and complicated." She points out that SLAM Ortho also plays a role in the fact that it affects many aspects in the care process. ”It is an operational instrument, with all the associated safety requirements. They should preferably be reusable, there is sufficient data processing and operating assistants and surgeons should be willing to work with them. It makes a huge difference if a program that focuses specifically on healthcare innovations offers support.”
To be eligible for a voucher, the consortium has drawn up an extensive project plan. ”Because we work with busy surgeons, it helps us to take good steps in a short time,” says Kölling. ”The voucher gives us the opportunity to work very thoroughly on a good solution for bone surgeons. The earnings model is also being examined in more detail in order to properly determine the market opportunities for this innovation. The program takes us a lot further across the board.”
For the time being, healthcare professionals are positive, Wijffels says. ”The surgeons confirm its usefulness and potential benefits. It is important to involve users at an early stage in the development of healthcare innovations, otherwise there is a good chance that an innovation will soon end up unused in a cupboard. The fact that various people from the hospital are already thinking along increases the chance of success.”
In March we published a "project in the spotlight" about SLAM Ortho, you can read that here.