Research shows tactile feedback benefits anesthesiologist

Thomas Ferris

Thomas Ferris

Anesthesiologists were shown to have greater awareness of a patient’s condition using tactile feedback systems developed by Texas A&M Center for Health Systems & Design faculty fellow Thomas Ferris, an assistant professor of industrial systems and engineering.

“Using a theory-based approach, I designed a set of systems that could transmit patient physiological data in real time to an anesthesiologist via patterns of vibration delivered from monitoring devices,” said Ferris.

Ferris measured the performance of practicing anesthesiologists using the new tactile systems in a simulator modeled on an anesthesia station in a University of Michigan hospital’s operating room. The results showed that physiological monitoring/management and multitask performance improved with all of the tactile systems, compared to standard visual and auditory display systems.

The task load of anesthesiologists imposes a heavy demand on visual and auditory resources, but the relatively underutilized sense of touch, Ferris said, can be employed to relay some patient information, reducing some of the demand on vision and hearing.

“This can ultimately lead to a greater awareness of the patient’s health state and improved multitasking performance,” he said.­

The next phase of this work, said Ferris, is to re-evaluate the displays from a user acceptance perspective, and develop a prototype for evaluation in the actual hospital environment.

Ferris presented his findings at an invited awards session in a recent meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and a paper Ferris wrote about the project was named a runner-up for the society’s 2011 Human Factors Prize.

posted October 17, 2011