Surgical UX: Information design for visualisation systems in surgery

2018 Talk


Advances in digital technologies have enhanced the capabilities of surgical practitioners in significant ways. With each advance, the relationship between human operators and digital assistants becomes ever more inter-dependent and intertwined.

We operate as human-computer entities, evolving beyond the interface as a control system, blurring the definition of human-computer interactions.

I have worked with a provider of visualisation software that fuses 3D images of patient data with live x-ray images to provide real-time visualisations of endovascular systems in 3-dimensional space. This kind of surgery used to rely on contrast angiography, have significant radiation exposure risks and require large doses of nephrotoxic iodinated contrast, but this new technique hugely reduces those risks, improves outcomes and dramatically increases workflow.

I worked with product developers and surgical practitioners to understand the opportunities for enhancing the patient and surgeon experience, and to consider new ways to support interactions with the control system when physical (touch) interactions were not possible. Through in-theatre observations during operations and interviews with surgeons, radiographers, and support staff I used principles of user-centred design to optimise the overlay and data visualisation system in the context of the operating theatre. In many cases it was a journey back to the most primitive renditions of interaction design elements, when visual cues, notifications and message systems had to strike a difficult balance between informative and unobtrusive.

Ultimately, understanding the language of practitioners was the most important factor in determining the success of the project – learning new nomenclatures, taxonomies and relationships in a highly specialised system in order to make sense of human interactions in an extraordinary context.