Innovative technology to improve communication in the Operating Room in COVID‑19 era

Lehmann, Alexandre | $50,000

Quebec McGill University 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

The COVID‑19 pandemic has turned the medical world upside down in many ways. This virus spreads easily and can be present in people without symptoms, who in turn can spread it unknowingly. Faced with these new challenges, the main way in which healthcare workers can protect themselves is by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). This can include different types of masks, also called respirators.

Numerous reports from the military, police and construction fields have highlighted that communication is severely impaired while wearing respirators. A person’s voice becomes low, muffled and unclear. Whether it’s a military operation or the operating room, the inability to communicate can endanger someone’s life. Since the pandemic began, healthcare workers have struggled with this impaired communication while wearing respirators. However, no solution currently exists to address this urgent issue.

With this dangerous situation at hand, our team sought to find a solution to improve communication while wearing respirators in the hospital. We identified a promising Canadian technology, currently used in the industrial and military setting. This in-ear device works by picking up a person’s own voice within the ear canal, and through an innovative algorithm, it reconstructs and transmits the human voice extremely clearly. We hypothesize that this technology could be worn by all team members during surgery, although it has never been trialed in a medical setting. The device will need to be adapted to the unique requirements of the operating room, by modifying its algorithm and providing hands-free operation.

Using a series of validated audiologic tests, we will quantify how comprehensible speech is while wearing different respirators with and without this new technology. We will then work with EERS, the Canadian company making these devices, to create a modified version of their device, applicable to the medical setting. Finally, physicians will test the adapted device during real surgery. We believe that this technology will result in an operating room that is safer, both for the patient and for the healthcare worker.

With funding from the Government of Canada

Please complete this short survey to help us understand our impact. Thank you!

Give Feedback