Most people spend relatively little time in an operating room. And if you are not a surgeon, anesthetist, assistant or other nursing professional, you will not be sorry about this fact. No one likes to have an operation because even with simple operations there is always a certain risk. In order to minimize this risk, we need people with excellent qualifications and an operating room with equipment which complies to a high standard. This starts with hygiene, includes the many medical, ventilation, cooling and IT systems and ends with the cooperation of the people involved. In industrial countries we have already achieved a high standard but who is to say that we cannot achieve more?
In order to research that and other points, at the campus of the FH Campus Wien – University of Applied Sciences in Vienna – the operation room innovation center (OPIC) has been established. OPIC consists of a fully functional training and research operating room with accompanying intensive station. However, real people never receive treatment there. The center exists for the purpose of research and training only. Our objective is to find out together with partners how the technology and also the processes during an operation can be improved.
The key words here are intraoperative imaging, minimally invasive surgery, innovative cleanroom technology, energy efficiency, intelligent lighting, virtual communication, patient safety and efficient teamwork. The whole concept of the OPIC is therefore oriented to flexible adaptation in order to consider every conceivable scenario. The OPIC is naturally networked in the best way possible to our technical degree courses which are designed to primarily benefit our area of clinical engineering (technicians in a medical environment), courses for health care and nursing, and also courses concerned with radiologic technology.
But why establish the OPIC in Vienna in the first place?
The idea emerged as early as 2013. The background was that realistic research in a genuine operating room environment was not possible or would be severely restricted. No hospital would be able to close one of its operating rooms for days, without even considering a week. Therefore in order to be able to achieve reproducible results and push new products, we had the idea of realizing our own training and research operating room. As a University of Applied Sciences, we were clearly aware that we were not in a position to finance such a project without external help. We therefore used the specialist conference “Future OP” to make the first contact with potential interested companies. Our objective was to conduct discussions to find out if there was even any interest in setting up such a facility and if yes how such cooperation between companies and the University of Applied Sciences might look like.
Our contact discussions were promising. A little later we then met a number of companies in Vienna for more detailed talks. Along with MANN+HUMMEL Vokes Air with its excellent products in the area of medical filtration products, we were able to attract two other industrial partners. This was TRILUX Medical, a company which develops, manufactures and distributes innovative medical engineering products for operating rooms and medical supply units for normal and intensive care, and gsm (Gesellschaft für Sicherheit in der Medizintechnik GmbH), an Austrian company specialized in medical engineering and safety audits whose expert team plans and offers consultation services for its customers involved in the challenge of building new facilities and re-equipping existing facilities in the health sector. All three industrial partners, together with FH Campus Wien were willing to support the OPIC with its initial equipment, research equipment, and personnel resources. The only thing missing now was the availability of funds.
Then the municipal Vienna business agency came to our assistance. The services offered by the agency included professional consulting on the procedures for the application of financial support from the government, the provision and development of suitable real estate and also included marketing worldwide for the business location of Vienna. In December 2014 the agency created the “Shared Research Facilities” funding program. The target was to promote the establishment and development of research infrastructure centers which could be used by both the business and scientific communities.
We applied with our concept and reached the final selection. At the end of 2015 the jury came to a decision and found that our plans were eligible for funding. When the financial resources became available at the end of 2015, we were able to start the construction phase. The OPIC opened in November 2017 and from this year the first study projects are possible. It’s worth mentioning that in this respect we are supported academically by the Amberg-Weiden University of Applied Sciences (OTH-AW), who have already set up a training and research operating room. They support the OPIC through a peer review process to promote quality assurance through independent experts from the same technical field. Finally, the Viennese hospital association (KAV) inputs research projects.
What are the benefits now for our industrial partners?
Let me go into this with the example of MANN+HUMMEL Vokes Air. Aeration and ventilation is very important for each operating room. After all, during an operation the room is placed under a slight positive pressure relative to the adjacent rooms to prevent the penetration of hospital germs, microbes, dust particles or harmful organisms in the protective zone for the operation. In terms of ventilation technology, a compact air conditioning device is therefore used with low turbulence laminar flow and recirculating air modules. In this process the question was naturally asked as to how much output the modules should have, how the air within the room flows, and the degree of required filter efficiency.
Even the temperature in the operating room is an issue as at the end of the day the surgeon should not have to sweat and patient should not freeze. That is all influenced by numerous factors. The low turbulence laminar flow, for example, is positioned over the operating table. Its air flow has to be arranged such that it covers the whole of the operating area or the defined operation protection zone with germ-free air without turbulence or a draught. Depending on the type of operation (there is a difference as to whether a child is being born, an appendix is being removed or heart surgery is planned), the number of the required medical personnel and type and scope of the medical devices and numerous other factors, significantly influence the basic conditions. Large hospitals therefore maintain different operating rooms in order to manage the volume of operations and also to prepare the facilities for the type and level of the respective operation.
In the case of MANN+HUMMEL Vokes Air, the ability to test new systems and filter media for their effectiveness can further increase the safety of patients. On the other hand, innovations can also lead to cost savings in hospitals as new materials, for example, can extend filter service life or consume less energy.
In total, we are now entering a new practice phase with a lot of confidence. This is because we also see ourselves as a platform where the medical, research and training communities can exchange the medical engineering information of tomorrow with industry.