A team of student engineers from UNSW are hoping to solve a $5.5 billion medical problem thanks to their award-winning idea to prevent pressure injuries in hospital.

Genevieve Murphy, Scott Hebenton and Maegan Chan have designed and built a prototype SmartAssistive device to help medical staff ensure that patients do not suffer pressure injuries.

Research published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies has shown that pressure injuries, which are localised injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue as a result of pressure and/or friction, occur in almost 13 per cent of overnight hospitalised patients in Australia.

These injuries result in an additional $5.5billion cost to the healthcare system due to extra treatment and prolonged length of stays, as well as leading to an increased workload on healthcare staff.

The scale of the problem was a driving factor in the genesis of SmartAssistive as an idea around 18 months ago, as part of the ENGG3060 Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology course in the Master of Biomedical Engineering degree.

The SmartAssistive team continued to develop their integrated pressure sensing system and were recently rewarded with first place at the Peter Farrell Cup – UNSW’s most prestigious startup pitch competition which aims to help students and HDR candidates become the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“The research shows that if you go into hospital, you have a greater than 1-in-10 chance of getting a pressure injury as an inpatient,” says Genevieve Murphy.

“Very basically, if you stay in a single position and you have sustained pressure on an area of your body for over two hours, you're at risk of getting a pressure injury. There are a range of protocols currently in place to try to prevent these injuries, but for whatever reason they are not effective enough.

“It doesn’t make sense that people go into hospital with one injury, only to then get another one. So that was the problem we wanted to solve and we have worked closely alongside people from the Prince of Wales Hospital to design our prototype.”

The resulting SmartAssistive system is an integrated pressure sensing device designed to prioritise intervention, which helps prevent the pressure injuries occurring, as well as subsequently producing auditable results.

It consists of a nylon-covered pressure sensor which registers around 1000 pressure points from the patient and feeds data into a centralised system.

This information is then analysed and calculates a risk rating for each patient, presenting nursing staff with a clear and simple task log to ensure more healthy outcomes.


The SmartAssistive team’s pitch in the Peter Farrell Cup certainly impressed the judging panel, which included UNSW Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs, UNSW Founders Entrepreneur-in-Residence Gary Zamel and Frances Atkins, Co-Founder and Director of Givvable.

SmartAssistive claimed the 1st Place ‘Early Stage’ prize, as well as the Dean of Engineering Award and People’s Choice Award.

“This team presented a fantastic use of technology to make people’s lives better in a meaningful and practical way,” said Professor Ian Gibson, Deputy Dean Industry Engagement, Innovation and Research at UNSW Engineering.

The SmartAssistive team are now involved in the UNSW Founders 10x Pre-Accelerator Program and hope to develop a minimum viable product in the next six months which can then be fully tested in hospitals or aged-care facilities. In addition, they aim to strengthen their business plan and make preparations to navigate their way through the regulatory process required for all medical devices.

“There are a couple of different devices from potential competitors that are being used in healthcare facilities at the moment,” says Scott Hebenton.

“One of them is quite inexpensive, but is pretty passive and does not have the sensing capabilities of our device.

“There is another much more expensive product available, but that is mostly being utilised for one-off assessments or in specialist clinics, rather than on traditional hospital wards. It also does not have the features we include in terms of helping staff prioritise an intervention.

“We want our device to have all the features that are actually useful to nurses and hospital managers that the current options are not providing.”

During development of the SmartAssistive system, the team have been mentored by Ross Black, Clinical Lead (Acute) Occupational Therapist at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

“Pressure injuries can result in marked impact on a person’s wellbeing. The more severe injuries might require surgical management, involvement of the whole multidisciplinary medical and allied health teams and lengthy hospital admissions. The associated financial costs are considerable,” he said.

“Development of a system which can help to prevent injuries and support clinical decision making is highly beneficial to the patient and multidisciplinary team working with them. The SmartAssitive device is potentially such a system.

“The work highlights the incredible potential benefits of technology applications in healthcare. The project has exemplified the CORE values of collaboration, openness, respect and empowerment. It also stands as a model for development of many future exciting projects.”

It’s been an amazing journey so far for the SmartAssistive team, and one they have found exciting and extremely rewarding.

“We know hospital-acquired pressure injuries cost the Australian healthcare system $5.5 billion a year, and we hope a major benefit of our device will be to bring that number down,” says Ms Murphy.

“We have been engaged with the Prince of Wales Hospital and we know there is a universal problem with pressure injuries and we want to fix it.

“When I first started this project on the course I was doing it just to try to challenge myself and do something that was a bit more engaged with bridging the gap between research and commercialisation.

“But then you work with a hospital partner and you see their real-world problems and try to think about how you can help to fix them.

“Along the way we’ve just tried to learn as much as we can, about how to bring an idea to market, and now we’ve won the Peter Farrell Cup which I never thought we’d achieve.”