I’ve been spending a lot of time working with a Vancouver, BC based team on what we affectionately refer to as the Drill Cover.

The project was born out of UBCs Engineers in Scrubs program, which seeks to foster innovation in medical technology by training graduate engineers in the clinical environment early in their careers. One component of this project is an 8-month long design project where technology is applied to unmet clinical needs.

The problem was identified during one of the Medtech CAFEs (Clinical Advances from Engineering), a roundtable discussion between engineers and clinicians whose only purpose is to identify sources of “pain” on a day to day basis.

I fondly recall when Dr. Blahut raised the point that his outreach work with USTOP (Uganda Sustainable Trauma and Orthopaedics Program) frequently had the problem of not enough surgical equipment to deal with the demand for fracture fixation. In any given week, the hospital in Kampala was faced with 40+ orthotrauma cases but only one surgical power drill, meaning that the drill would be rationed for the most challenging cases and others would be handled with a hand drill, akin to an eggbeater with a drill bit on the front.

These hand drills are thought to be less accurate and take longer to tunnel through bone, meaning that patient outcome would probably be worse than if they were treated with a power drill. If you’ve ever handled a surgical drill, you probably have thought to yourself “This is just like the one I have at home. Why is this worth $30 ooo?”

So rather than insisting that the bootstrapped hospital shell out for medical devices designed for first-world budgets, the surgeons attempted to compensate by bringing in traditional hardware store drills wrapped in towels to compensate for the inability to properly sterilize the drills. Upon seeing a photo of a towel wrapped drill being held by the unsterile hand of the assistant, guided by the sterile hands of the surgeon, the team unanimously agreed that we could do better.

So we did.

Progress has been incredible and we’ve received some great media coverage along the way.

I hope that everyone will find the time to check out http://www.drillcover.com/ to learn more about the project and the great people that are working on it.

Wish us luck as we move towards gaining regulatory approval in Africa.