Emergency ambulance redesign wins international award

Issue date: 28 August 2012

See images of the ambulance redesign here

UWE Bristol researcher Professor Jonathan Benger provided the clinical expertise for a radical design overhaul of the ambulance interior that has won an international design award. The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) has awarded the Emergency Ambulance Project a Silver Award for Research in its 2012 International Design Excellence Awards.

The IDSA's award programme is one of the world's most prestigious schemes for industrial design and the research category is among the toughest to win.

In parallel development, the ambulance redesign project was exhibited at The White Box Gallery in New York, after being named among the selected projects in the Design for the Real World Redux International Design Competition, held in memory of the Austrian-born designer, author and educator Victor J Papanek.

Professor Jonathan Benger from UWE Bristol, an expert in emergency care and recently cited as one of the UK's top five doctors in this field by the Times, provided the clinical expertise and advice to inform the designer team at the Helen Hamlyn Centre.

The project to update, improve and futureproof the familiar 'box on wheels' has devised a new concept for the design of ambulance interiors that was launched at the Royal College of Art (RCA) ' in 2011. The new concept is the result of a partnership between Imperial College, London, the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the RCA, the London Ambulance Service and UWE Bristol.

As well as better ergonomic design, a key feature of the new interior is a major overhaul of on-board communications that exploits digital technology providing clinicians with a workstation and facilities to confer with specialists for advice, to obtain data and to log case details, patient observations and clinical interventions for transmission to hospitals whilst still en-route.

There is also a new space in the centre of the ambulance adapted for the patient trolley, an attendant seat and innovative treatment packs mounted on a “working wall”. The entire layout is now more intuitive and efficient, and has been tested to reduce contamination and healthcare acquired infections using simulated clinical scenarios and invisible tracer dyes.

Jonathan Benger says that the current conventional ambulance interior has been added to piecemeal over time, rather than designed from scratch, and this may prevent ambulance staff from delivering the best possible patient care. He comments, “Initially ambulances were transport boxes on wheels and have not altered significantly since they were first used following World War II.

“The ambulance has evolved organically with additional treatment equipment like storage, stretchers, oxygen and so on quite literally bolted on with little thought given to the ergonomics for staff or the overall patient experience. The result is that we now have vehicles that weigh over three tonnes, cost a fortune to run and that fail to take full account of modern developments in safety, comfort, new technologies, or carbon footprint.”

The team identified ten aspects of the current emergency ambulance needing urgent improvements to enhance safety and comfort for patients and clinicians. These problems exist largely as a result of an ad hoc 'cottage industry' approach to ambulance manufacture. The key areas include hygiene and cleanliness, patient experience, stock control of consumables, technology integration, standardisation of equipment, diagnostics, treatment processes, future proofing, longevity and carbon footprint and functionality.

Professor Benger continues, “The design enables emergency ambulance staff to provide the best possible care; a comfortable layout that is more intuitive and efficient with better communications and IT provision. The design is also safer which will lead to a reduction in accidents and healthcare acquired infections.”

The new interior is based on concepts previously developed for “Smart Pods”, a project that Professor Benger worked on as clinical advisor previously with designers from the Helen Hamlyn Centre. The team worked closely with emergency care professionals and patients and tested the new design through a series of iterations using simulated emergency situations, each time redesigning and retesting to hone the interior.

The design and development team looked at ambulance reports from across the UK to understand the variety of problems that are routinely encountered by ambulance professionals, and used these as the basis for their simulation tests.

This latest collaboration has been jointly funded by the NHS London Regional Innovation Fund and Helen Hamlyn Trust.


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