February 27, 2017

Students think big with Mercy Medical Center surgery robot project

Even state-of-the-art robots need improvement. That's where school robotics clubs like the one at Carrollton Exempted Village Schools come in.

Guided by Stephanie Glasure—gifted/STEM/PLTW coordinator and organizer and coach of the after-school robotics program for  grades four through six at Carrollton Exempted Village Schools in Carrollton, Ohio—Kaylee Joseph, sixth grader, and Ivy Slutz, fourth grader, want to help robotic surgery advance even further.

To accomplish that, the students interviewed surgery specialists at Mercy Medical Center to come up with an idea to speed the transfer of medical documentation between the hospital's surgery robot and its electronic health record (EHR). To date, their concept has earned them STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) awards, a design award, and the opportunity to compete next week at the state robotics competition.

Finding Room for Improvement
Kaylee became interested in robotics nearly three years ago when she attended the district's first summer robotics camp in June 2015. One year later, Glasure started an afterschool robotics club. Students nornally must apply for club membership and get permission from their parents.

Ivy, who's in her first year with the club, says, "I was invited to join robotics, and I begged my parents to let me."

Each year, club members identify an area where robots in a particular industry could be improved. Once students determine a robot challenge, they must develop a solution and present it to a panel of judges at robotics competitions. This includes creating a notebook of their development process; doing a clear, concise four-minute verbal presentation with their prototype; and answering judges' questions for an additional four minutes.

Concept Had to Satisfy HIPAA Privacy Laws with Medical Documentation
Kaylee's interest in medical robots led her and her mom to Mercy, where the region's first Intuitive Surgical® da Vinci® Surgery Robot was installed in 2008 and the newest da Vinci in 2016. To find out if Mercy surgeons or surgery assistants could think of any improvements for the medical center's surgery robots, Kaylee and her mom reached out to Beth Schuring, manager of Mercy Orthopedic and Minimally Invasive & Robotic Surgery.

"Robotic surgery technology is advancing very quickly, but documentation is always an issue in health care," says Beth. "The Intuitive Surgical System records information and times throughout the surgical procedure, but none of that information transfers to the patient electronic health record (EHR). The transfer of the information is not developed with the current technology. The staff collect much of the same information and must document it in our EHR. The challenge is how to link the information from Intuitive to the patient’s medical record assuring HIPAA patient privacy regulations are maintained. In addition, there is an opportunity to use the system to record other information that occurs during the surgical procedure. So, that is the challenge we presented to Kaylee and Ivy, and they really took the ball and ran with it."

In January, the Carrollton students interviewed a Mercy surgeon, toured a robotic operating suite, and began to build a conceptual device using VEX Robotics components (including a sensor) that ideally would integrate with Mercy's own information technology systems and also "talk" to Intuitive digitally. The centerpiece of the girls' prototype focused on satisfying HIPAA privacy laws by incorporating fingerprint ID scanning.

"Our idea is for the surgeon or another authorized person to scan their thumbprint with our device," says Kaylee. "Then, our device would accept or reject the thumbprint. If it's accepted, the authorized person could use our device to add medical information about the surgery or have it transfer between Mercy and Intuitive." 

Beth spoke with representatives at Intuitive, who have acknowledged Ivy and Kaylee's great idea. Whether the company can use it remains to be seen.

"That's what all this is about—connecting students and their ideas for robotics to the real world," says Glasure. "My goal is to help students develop 21st-century skills and expose them to things they didn't even know existed. The application process is key, as that's where kids get their best ideas. Plus, they must have intrinsic motivation and parent support."

Idea Takes Students to State Competition
Competition judges have also been impressed with Kaylee and Ivy's project. This past Saturday, they won another STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Award at competition, as well as the event's Design Award. Next Saturday they head to Ohio VEX IQ - CROSSOVER Elementary State Championship at North Union Middle School in Richwood, Ohio. With a strong performance at state, Kaylee and Ivy could be headed to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Kentucky in April. Both competitions are part of STEM outreach programs developed by the Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation.

Ivy's favorite part of the project so far has been solving the problem. "When we first started, I did not even want to hear medical words," she says, "but now I don't mind anymore."

Kaylee enjoyed the opportunity to try out the surgery robot operating system. "I think maybe being a neurosurgeon would be fun," she says. "And I think this is our year to shine. We've had lots of practice and hard work. We live and breathe robotics."

Mercy Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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