The Body You Know”

Improving healthcare outcomes: Is it time to let the sensors do the talking?

My Colleagues at the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery ( are exhibiting at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from the 30th of June to 5th July 2015 (, showcasing their latest exciting research developments in the field of body sensing and body sensor networks. Spending time at their exhibition this morning it is immediately apparent that certain developments in sensors such as miniaturisation and low power consumption mean that technologies are well placed to contribute to improvements in healthcare outcomes. As a consultant surgeon I too frequently observe the problems that emerge as a result of delayed diagnosis and am frustrated at our inability to capture more information about physiological or disease processes between hospital visits. In my opinion solutions that focus more on disease prevention or improved monitoring of chronic illnesses should be sought so that hospital resources and expertise may be better streamlined. A new generation of discrete wearable and implantable sensors will be able to collect vast amounts of healthcare data, communicate with each other and relay this information in an intelligent fashion back to the hospital consultant. I hope this will mean that patients undergoing chemotherapy will not have wait until blood counts drop so low that they get infections and require hospitalisation, that post-operative wound infections are detected and held at bay at a sub-clinical stage and that the implants we use to reconstruct or repair worn out body parts will communicate with us as clinicians so we know before or as soon as they rupture, fracture or fail. Whilst I dream of these changes, the engineering team at Hamlyn Centre informed me today that in order to make these dreams a reality, many challenges will need to overcome, such as improvements in biocompatibility of implantable sensors to prevent patients mounting reactions to the sensors, and new ways of interpreting the huge amounts of physiological data that will likely emerge as a result of these sensors. It is critical that clinicians are the forefront of these developments in healthcare as we will need to advise on the clinical challenges of greatest need, biological targets for detection, and thresholds upon which we wish to intervene. This is a fascinating exhibition and I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning about new ways to improve healthcare outcomes.

-- Daniel Richard Leff, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Breast Surgery, Imperial College London

Daniel is currently a Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery working in the Departments of BioSurgery and Surgical Technology and Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery at Imperial College London, and the Breast Unit at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

He tweets from @DanielRLeff