Liverpool Hospital trials smart gloves to train surgeons

Thursday, 24 March, 2022

Liverpool Hospital trials smart gloves to train surgeons

Liverpool Hospital is trialling smart gloves that are said to provide surgical trainees with instant and accurate feedback.

The surgical gloves, invented by engineers at Western Sydney University, have been built around low-cost sensors which can record hand movements in fine detail, giving trainee surgeons and their mentors actionable data to evaluate and improve on intricate surgical procedures.

The research team are working closely with surgeons and students at Liverpool Hospital to develop the technology, which will augment rather than replace traditional surgical training.

Dr Gough Lui, who led the work, believes the device could objectively measure the intricate hand manoeuvres of surgeons, allowing for clear and actionable feedback for trainees.

“Training surgeons in a more objective and evidence-based manner ensures evidence-based competency. Teachers will be able to give precise feedback on minute details post-surgery, and students can analyse their performance,” Dr Lui said.

While surgical techniques have advanced significantly in the last century, training still fundamentally relies on observation — mentors looking over the shoulder of trainees to give personal feedback.

Technology like simulators is hugely expensive, so students have limited access. The gloves developed by Lui and his team collect motion data and relay it to a smartphone or computer, where each tiny movement is recorded and visualised.

The gloves are not a replacement for trainers, but they augment their ability to give advice. The researchers have been working closely with surgeons at Liverpool Hospital to make sure the device meets the exacting requirements of surgical skills training.

“A surgeon’s hands do delicate work, and the prototype needed to enhance that without adding bulk or distraction to the glove,” Dr Lui said.

For example, the first model had wires and sensors on the fingertips, but later prototypes used sensors on the forearm and the back of the hand to capture force and motion data without interfering with the surgeon’s own sensitive hands.

Next steps include developing a mobile app so students might take the gloves home for practice. Beyond surgery, the team hope the gloves could help other professionals who rely on manual dexterity, such as musicians and artists.

The South Western Sydney Local Health District, Liverpool Hospital, The Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research and the James N. Kirby Foundation supported the project.

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