Richard Goossens

‘3D prints of the human body for surgeons to practise on? We can do that at Medical Delta!’



Richard Goossens obtained his doctorate in 1994 at the Erasmus University researching Biomechanics of Body Support. He went on to become professor at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft. At the present time he is professor of Design of Products in Healthcare in Delft and professor of Physical Ergonomics at the Erasmus University.


TU Delft: Industrial Design
Erasmus MC: Physical Ergonomics

Anatomy lessons for designers

The ‘Box of Delft’

‘I took my PhD at Erasmus University which is where I got to know the anatomist Gert-Jan Kleinrensink. We have set up both joint courses and joint research for a number of years now. We came to the conclusion that designers ought to know how a human being looks on the inside. Within a few months we had set up anatomy classes for designers: six lectures and one laboratory course where they actually have to dissect a body. We are doing it this year for the tenth time.’

‘Students are given the assign- ment of using their activities in the dissecting room as inspiration for a design proposal. This really does generate a lot of very good ideas. Kleinrensink calls it the ‘Box of Delft’. One of the ideas led to a start-up company two years ago called Exo-L. People who have sprained their ankle can buy a special add-on for their sport shoes, which provides exactly the right support for the damaged ligament.’

Designers take anatomy lessons while medical students learn ergonomics

‘But now for the research! We said to each other three years ago: de- signers are getting anatomy lessons – now it’s time for medical students to learn ergonomics! Now, all the third year medical students spend half a day here at Industrial Design Engineering to be introduced to the basics of ergonomics. What we hope to achieve is that specialists realise that certain problems can be ergonomic problems, to which they can find solutions together with de- signers. When they come up with a good idea, we form teams including a specialist, a designer and also in many cases patients as well as a company or a foundation.’

Biocoach: registering the ‘patient journey’

‘Another PhD student who I got to know at Erasmus University is now an orthopaedist who works at the Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis. He felt that a complete hip replacement involved too much attention for various technical innovations to do with the implant, and too little with regard to the whole course beforehand and afterwards. What is actually happening, what does the patient expect?’

‘The actual operation is only a small part of that process, which we call the ‘patient journey’. We have set up small teams including specialists and students as well as repre- sentatives from a company called BIOMET, and gave them the task of finding ways to improve various stages of the journey.’

‘I’ll give you an example: During revalidation, the physiotherapist will often not know which exercises the patient is doing. Conversely, the patient often does not know if he is performing the exercises that he has been given in the correct way. One of the ideas was to develop a piece of equipment that is able to measure the exercises. That idea has grown, in the meantime, into a patented system called the Bio- coach. You wear it on your leg and it registers your exertions. The Bio- coach tells the patient if he is doing well, but also transmits information to the physiotherapist, who can use it to provide advice in a much more efficient manner.’

Patient profiling to map out the patient’s daily activities

‘Another example, which we are working on at the moment: we are defining the various types of patient, and using this information to look at how these different types need to be supported during their patient journey. This starts with patient profiling, using question- naires, for example, but you could also use the Biocoach beforehand to map out the patient’s daily activi- ties. The specialist can then tailor his approach and the expectations that he creates, based on that particular profile. And a company that offers certain services can also make use of the profile. In this way, you can attune the expectations and the abilities of the patient to the final result as effectively as possible.’

Practising surgery on 3D prints of the human body

‘One thing that we’ve only just started working on is making 3D prints of the human body. Sur- geons who want to practise a par- ticularly difficult operation mostly only get a couple of opportunities to work on a body, and then it’s off to the first patient! We are working together with the Erasmus Medical Centre to make 3D print sections of various parts of the body for them to work on, which have a similar ‘feel’ to the real thing. We produce a series of prints, ranging from simple to complex anatomy, so that they can gradually get to grips with the operation. That’s the really enjoyable aspect of Medical Delta for me. Bringing problems from the medical context to Delft, to the students here!’

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