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Improvement in hands-free system for controlling OR computers

By Jerry Zeidenberg

Toronto-based GestSure, which only a few years ago launched a world-leading innovation that enables surgeons to use computers in the OR without touching a keyboard or mouse, has now released a major improvement. Instead of needing two hands to make the gestures that operate computers by remote control, surgeons will be able to perform these tasks using just one hand.

“This will be a big help for surgeons and interventional radiologists,” said Jamie Tremaine, an engineer specializing in machine vision and co-founder and CEO of GestSure.

The solution works by deploying Microsoft’s Kinect platform and sophisticated software and hardware devised by GestSure. Kinect was originally aimed at the consumer marketplace, and has done very well there. But increasingly, innovators are finding uses for it in healthcare.

Kinect allows users to control a device from a distance by gesturing with their bodies. GestSure’s innovation employs Kinect and its infrared light coding to capture the hand motions of physicians, enabling them to quickly change the diagnostic pictures on a screen or to zoom in and out.

The three creators of GestSure – who include a University of Toronto surgical resident, a computer engineer and engineering specialist Tremaine – adapted the Kinect system so that surgeons wouldn’t have to touch a keyboard in the OR when calling up diagnostic images.

The advantage? Keyboards and mice are not sterile, and surgeons cannot use them directly, due to the risk of transferring pathogens to patients on the operating table.

“Maintaining sterility is paramount,” noted Tremaine. Failing to do so could lead to the deaths of patients or result in re-admissions.

Some surgeons direct an assistant to call up images in the OR, but that is often a frustrating experience, as the assistant doesn’t know quite what the surgeon wants to see.

Often enough, surgeons try to commit diagnostic images to memory before conducting their operations. Needless to say, that doesn’t always work so well.

That’s where GestSure comes in. Using the technology, surgeons can access the images they need without touching a keyboard or laboriously instructing an assistant. “It’s important to see the images, especially for complicated surgeries like the brain, spine and ENT,” commented Tremaine. “You just can’t go blindly digging around in there.”

Thoracic surgeries also benefit from having images up on the screen. And increasingly, physicians are using the GestSure technology to retrieve notes and information as well as images while in the OR.

GestSure’s system has been tested with favourable results in the ORs at Sunnybrook Hospital. The company has also sold solutions to users in the United States, including Swedish Hospital in Seattle. (Interestingly, GestSure was featured in Microsoft’s advertising in the most recent Super Bowl telecast.)

The company also works with Techna Institute in Toronto, a think-tank and development lab that was launched by the University Health Network. And it’s a key partner of Microsoft in the healthcare sector.

The ability to control the flow of diagnostic images appearing on a monitor, by using motions from one hand, is a major innovation. “No one else has this,” asserted Tremaine, who said that competitors are still trying to get the basic technology right. The one-handed control means that surgeons can keep one hand on their instruments. “That’s especially important for interventional radiologists,” said Tremaine, as IRs manipulate flexible instruments that have been inserted into their patients.

Commented Peter Jones, Microsoft’s healthcare industry lead for Canada: “As innovation and collaboration become the primary catalysts for change, Microsoft plays a vital role through its network of 625,000 global software, hardware and service partners to build these affordable solutions.”

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