Technology aids design of new ICU

The same software which runs computer games is being used by Dunedin Hospital to design a more user-friendly and cost-effective intensive care unit.

The new ward is being created in 3-D by computer, as well as by hammers and nails on the fifth floor of the ward block.

Before the walls go up, clinical staff are using virtual reality goggles to "move" around the proposed new layout, trialling what will and will not  work.

The VR trials have led  to many design changes, particularly concerning sight-lines and creating room for moving beds around corners.

The programme is so comprehensive that even small details, such as the location of soap dispensers and rubbish bins, have been tested. The software can make changes in real time, so several new configurations can be tried in just a few minutes.


One person sold on the high-tech approach to staff consultation is intensive care clinical director Craig Carr.

"This is the 11th ICU design and build that I have been involved in, and this tool is awesome," Dr Carr said.

"We just whipped around the site, saw three things which we thought would be really important operationally, been around it here [in virtual reality] and decided this one doesn’t need changing and these two do.

"That’s probably just saved us thousands of bucks in terms of work we would have had to do after we had opened, just in that one 5 to10 minute exercise — and we walk around it every week."

The ICU is being combined with the High Dependency Unit to create a co-located ICU/HDU service with 22 bed spaces.

The first phase, of 12 beds, is expected to be completed in the second half of this year, and the second stage to be finished in the first half of 2019.

Assistant charge nurse Melissa Law has taken a break from the unit to work as project officer on the ICU rebuild.

Most staff did not understand paper plans and had initially been taken through the project on-screen through a computer model, Miss Law said.

However, virtual reality technology was a much more helpful process.

"We got good feedback from looking at the big screen ... but this is amazing, as people can wander around and look at the things they want to look at, rather than looking at the path set by the computer," she said.

An ICU had to balance two conflicting needs, patient privacy and the requirement that staff have a clear view of all patients and each other.

Through virtual reality, staff could try out different configurations of the ward space to see what worked best, Miss Law said.

"You can sit exactly where you will be working, look around, and see all of the patients and all of the staff — it’s great for people to know the new space won’t be as scary as they might think."

Lessons used from designing the ICU would be used when designing the rebuilt Dunedin Hospital, Miss Law said.

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