VETERINARIANS at the University of Illinois are utilizing technology that's used in smartphones and other electronic devices to help horses recover safely from anesthesia.
Accelerometers — portable data recorders that capture information on motion, vibration and impact — are frequently affixed to shipping containers to monitor handling when transporting delicate scientific instruments. The same sensors in smartphones enable users to reorient the phone display from vertical to horizontal.
The veterinary researchers are using accelerometers to monitor horses' movements as they awaken from anesthesia and to develop protocols that minimize the risk of injury.
Stuart C. Clark-Price, a specialist in anesthesiology and pain management at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is the lead investigator on the research, along with veterinarians at Cornell University, Virginia Polytechnic & State University and the universities of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
The size, strength and anatomical structure of horses make them challenging surgical patients. If horses lie for extended periods of time, their bodyweight can crush blood vessels, cutting off blood flow to their muscles and causing those muscles to begin to die. If that occurs, horses are unable to stand again when they come out of anesthesia.
When horses are lying on their sides for surgery, their large intestinal tracts can compress their lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe.
Clark-Price and his colleagues are attaching tri-axis accelerometers between the horses' shoulder blades. As the horses awaken from anesthesia and attempt to stand up, the device records their movements. The data are later uploaded to a computer and compared to a statistical model that rates each horse's recovery on a scale of 0-100 that is based on the amount of difficulty the horse had getting up.
If a horse can stand up in a slow and controlled manner, "it triggers the device less, but if the horse gets up and ricochets around and is flailing all over, the device is triggered more," Clark-Price said, adding that standing up smoothly, slowly and quietly reduces the horse's chance of injury and earns it a better score. "A perfect score is 11. The worst possible would be 100."
Until now, veterinarians evaluated surgical recoveries by viewing videotapes of the horses and assigning scores, but that method can be subjective and arbitrary, Clark-Price warned. Using accelerometers and the statistical model "takes the human element out of it altogether," he said. "It's a completely objective way of gathering data on (horses') recovery."
Clark-Price also is exploring the use of short-acting medications to calm or sedate horses until inhalant anesthesia wears off so they are more alert and coordinated when they attempt to stand up.