NHS Trust deploys wearables to accelerate student learning

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RealWear, the pioneer of hands-free wearable computers for frontline workers, today announced that the Trauma and Orthopaedic Department of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has deployed RealWear head-mounted tablets and software to accelerate student learning and create a safer theatre training environment. The deployment enables the Department to vastly increase the number of students that can safely experience orthopaedic operating theatre procedures in real-time from the surgeon’s point of view, while optimising the quality of the students’ learning. The deployment of RealWear coincides with a major NHS England Workforce Plan announced earlier this summer devised to address the chronic skills shortage in the NHS, with over 112,000 vacancies across the NHS workforce in March 2023.

The Trust is an integrated hospital and community healthcare organisation serving around 400,000 people in Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and parts of County Durham. The Department was keen to expand the number of student practice placements it could offer, to help address the broader skills shortages across a wide demographic of specialisms. Traditional placements – where students learn alongside professionals in a specific setting, such as an operating theatre environment – could not accommodate the extra number of students, due to space and safety restrictions, which creates a partial or obstructed view of the medical procedure underway. This hampers or slows the learning procedure and knowledge transfer, as visual observation is key for all students. Prior to the Department’s deployment of RealWear, a limited number of students could be accommodated in an operating theatre at a time, who would only catch glimpses of the procedure. To solve this issue, and to open it up to more students, the Department looked for ways to share the surgeon’s point of view with a larger number of students gathered safely and comfortably watching proceedings in real-time via a monitor in a separate room. This proposed method required the use of a hands-free headset, with the Department choosing RealWear, having assessed it favourably against competitor devices.

In Search of the Right Wearable for Healthcare, NHS Lands on RealWear Navigator® 500

Using the right wearable computer was crucial to ensure user acceptance by the surgeons. The device needed to be light in weight so the surgeon could wear it comfortably for many hours, and it needed to have an easily adjustable camera that could be positioned prior to surgery. RealWear emerged as the Department’s preferred choice – specifically RealWear Navigator® 500 running Microsoft Teams – and it was determined to be the standard head-mounted solution going forward. The lightweight headset’s adjustable point-of-view camera, video stabilisation and precision zoom feature enabled the students to see the procedure vividly from the same perspective as the surgeon, which greatly enhances the learning experience. Students can now observe detailed procedures providing them with a life-like and immersive perspective.

Wearing the RealWear Headset was a Game Changer

Wearing a RealWear device, the surgeon performs the live surgery while students observe and ask questions as they ‘see’ through the surgeon’s eyes. Students can ask questions during the procedure and the surgeon can respond thanks to the device’s inbuilt speakers and microphone. Students can also request a closer view of specific aspects, making it a highly interactive experience. This initiative has opened tremendous opportunities for teaching and learning that the Department wouldn’t have otherwise had.

“Since deploying RealWear wearables, we can now provide more individuals with operating theatre experience in a single day than we typically would in an entire year, while giving them a significantly enhanced learning opportunity,” said Nick Cooke, consultant in trauma and orthopaedics at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. “The technology has enabled us to accommodate a diverse group of students, including those training to be paramedics, radiographers and physiotherapists to name a few. Student nurses from other regions are also able to join us for this learning experience.”

Jean Angus, head of nursing education at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, added: “Entering a theatre can be intimidating for students, but this technology removes that barrier. Practice experience in theatre is not available to all students, but by using the RealWear device it has been possible to accommodate students from 11 disciplines and 6 universities. This allows them to interact with the surgeon and view the whole theatre experience. This, in turn, may inspire students to think about the career progression opportunities it presents. The experience can play a role in addressing the significant shortage of theatre professionals nationally.”

According to Mr Cooke, the Trauma and Orthopaedic Department has experienced a snowball effect of growth in the number of students keen to trial this technology and diversification each time it conducts a session. In fact, it has received applications from students at other trusts, indicating the increasing interest in experiencing the operating theatre in this way. While current space limitations prevent the Trust from accommodating all interested individuals in a single lecture theatre, there is the interest in the technology from other trusts and the potential to deploy it beyond North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

“Simplicity, user friendliness and the ability to provide a bird’s-eye view of surgical procedures are the three aspects that are most important to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust since its deployment,” said Dr. Chris Parkinson, cofounder and CEO at RealWear. “Our hands-free solutions are a gamechanger for healthcare, allowing a large audience of students to gather in one room and remotely observe medical procedures with zero obstructions. This dramatically accelerates the learning process for all in real time.”

According to the Department, it hopes that with further deployment of this technology, wearables will be able to be used to observe the complete patient journey, from outpatient consultations to post-operative recovery. During interprofessional learning sessions it even discovered an unexpected benefit: paramedics, who are often the first responders to emergencies, can use the technology to connect with specialists and Emergency Departments to visually show the patient’s condition and explain the treatments provided to the patient in real-time before they arrive at the hospital. This will enable the Trust to bridge the gap between different disciplines and create a holistic understanding of a patient’s journey.

For more information, visit www.RealWear.com.