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Intelligent Machines

O.R. of the Future

Massachusetts General Hospital doctors lead a tour of what they hope will be the world’s most efficient operating room.

Today’s operating rooms are rats’ nests of equipment and wires, overpopulated with doctors and nurses who must constantly elbow past one  another to actually see what’s happening with a patient, adjust an instrument, or read a monitor. Not necessarily the ideal environment for the staff, let alone for the person on the table. But at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, a nonprofit consortium called CIMIT (for Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology) is building tomorrow’s operating room, and it looks a whole lot different.

The space itself-actually a suite of rooms-is open and airy, with elbow room to spare. Strategically placed cameras and monitors afford each member of the surgical team a clear view no matter how crowded the room gets. Equipment is neatly organized and designed for seamless integration. A computer keeps track of the doctors’ whereabouts via radio-frequency-and-infrared tags, and eventually each piece of equipment could be tracked the same way-meaning nurses won’t have to go searching for critical devices in the middle of surgery, and doctors won’t have to open patients back up to retrieve wayward clamps and sponges.

“The goal is to make it the safest operating room in the world, and also the most efficient,” says David Rattner, the surgeon who heads the Operating Room of the Future program. Rattner, along with surgical nurse Marie Egan-the project’s manager-and Warren Sandberg, the program’s director of anesthesia, showed Technology Review senior editor Rebecca Zacks just what the team is doing to reach that goal.

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