Biomedical Engineering Association

Incontinence: The Engineering Challenge XI

Alan Cottenden, Organising Committee Chair

Image: shutterstock
Image: shutterstock

As with its predecessors in the series, this 11th biennial conference aimed to assemble a rich, multi-disciplinary mix of those interested in incontinence technology to stimulate, inspire, inform and encourage each other.

So it was that around 100 people from industrial, clinical, academic, not-for-profit and government worlds – including some representatives with incontinence – gathered over the two days.

Addressing such an audience poses significant challenges for speakers if their messages are to reach beyond the vocabularies and cultures of their own professional tribes. Similarly, much is demanded of listeners as they are coaxed through one unfamiliar territory after another, and invited to grasp the alien perspectives of those whose complementary skills may make them – or others like them - fruitful cross-disciplinary collaborators, or - at least - sources of important insights. And this time, the bar was raised still further for both speakers and listeners by limiting all non-keynote presenters to just ten minutes, as an experiment in accommodating the welcome growth in offered papers. The pleasing buzz of discussion around speakers at the end of sessions suggests the plan worked well.

Some of the programme features will have been familiar to regulars. As ever, the most popular session was surely the one in which the audience was invited to quiz a panel of people who manage their incontinence daily: how better to gain insights into the challenges that end users of incontinence technology face, and identify unmet needs to work on? In a related session, several experienced nurses described work aimed at capturing and passing on product user experience to fellow clinicians and to those seeking to develop improved technology. As usual, there were sessions comprising talks focused on key themes: urinary catheters, absorbent pads, faecal incontinence, instrumentation and – for the first time – incontinence challenges in low income countries/contexts. Each lecture sought to clarify a need, evaluate a solution, describe some foundational science or technology and / or describe a new approach or product. There were also keynote presentations, some of them from speakers outside the field having expertise thought likely to have application in it: infection prevention using ultrasonically produced bubbles, and the potential of fibre engineering.

The programme also included some new features. First, encouraged by the prospect of a range of prizes, poster authors were offered a 2-minute-one-slide podium slot to share their key messages and invite listeners to visit their posters to find out more. Second, near the close of the first day, delegates were invited to gather into small groups charged with brain-storming fresh approaches to tackling an incontinence-related problem, such as dealing with odour, or the limitations of catheters, and share their findings in a subsequent plenary feedback session. Again, debate was lively and some were clearly in their element, although others were not so sure!

It was altogether an excellent meeting. If the volume of animated discussion at the breaks and the lack of delegates catching up on their email are good indicators of success, this one scored well.

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