Industry leaders say innovation is here to stay

July 24, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into healthcare delivery, to say the least. Yet, innovators in this space did not slow down their push to move the industry forward with surgical technological advancements. This space is full of technologies that assist busy clinical professionals, making their day-to-day lives a little bit easier.

As to what’s hot right now, Tom Meevis, vice president, commercial strategy & communications, North America, Getinge, said, “Technology has been changing the delivery of healthcare around the world for years. Any technology that can simplify and streamline a working environment is in demand right now. In today’s world, it’s not just about working hard, it’s also about working smarter and more efficiently to help healthcare institutions and professionals provide the best possible care to their patients. Technologies such as robotics, three-dimensional visualization, and digital solutions are dominating right now, and it’s because they come with a wide array of benefits for healthcare workers and their patients.” 
Dustin Vaughan, vice president, R&D, robotics, Asensus Surgical, largely agreed. He said,Technologies that empower physicians with real-time data insights are progressing toward the norm across medicine, however, there remains room for growth in that area in surgery. By incorporating the advanced capabilities of AI, machine learning, and computer vision into surgical procedures, we can augment the physician’s skill to create a new category of intelligence-backed treatment that we refer to as ‘Performance-Guided Surgery’ Leveraging real-time data in the operating room has the power to drive more consistently positive health outcomes for patients and reduce healthcare costs.”

He added, “The goal of any new technology should focus on making surgeries more repeatable and optimizing positive outcomes. As digital intelligence tools continue to evolve and enter the market, we will see less variability across surgical procedures and reduced rates of complication.”

Jaime Wong, MD, senior vice president and senior medical officer, Intuitive Surgical, commented, “Intuitive has been deeply connected to our customers for more than two decades, helping determine how our advanced technologies can bring value in their real-world experience. (A robotic surgical system that collects dust is not useful, even though it may represent advanced technology.) We consistently focus on certain goals, which our customers share: technology that supports improved patient outcomes, that supports better experiences for patients and care teams, and, of course, technology that can lower the total cost to treat.” 

“So, the value may come from a reduced hospital stay after a certain da Vinci surgery, for example,” Wong added. “Or an earlier lung cancer diagnosis with the help of an Ion-enabled biopsy—or more surgical volume from 24/7 access to robotic surgery. It’s the value of all those goals that our customers demand.” 

Technology assists, doesn’t replace 

The staffing crisis facing hospitals right now is a serious pain-point for most, if not all, organizations across the U.S. Asensus Surgical’s Vaughan said, “By focusing innovation on augmenting the work of clinicians – not replacing them—emerging technologies can help to reduce some of the burdens of practicing medicine that have contributed to burnout. In surgery, for instance, we may prolong the careers of some physicians through robotic platforms that minimize the cognitive and orthopedic strain of performing numerous surgeries every day. Career longevity is an increasingly important factor in the healthcare system, as nearly half of all active physicians in the U.S. will be 65 or older by 2030. In addition, by lowering the demands of the entire surgical team day-to-day, physicians and OR staff may see an increase in their overall work satisfaction and feel less burned out at the end of each day.” 

Intuitive Surgical’s Wong commented, “Staffing issues are in the top areas of concern for the surgical suite—and probably all areas of healthcare. Health systems are leveraging modern robotic surgery platforms and implementing alternative staffing approaches to help optimize OR performance and alleviate staff burden. In many cases, Intuitive has worked closely with hospitals to analyze their data, training, and workflow protocols to utilize fewer staff per procedure—often from four to three.” 

Wong continued, “Advanced technology in the da Vinci system is designed to improve operational efficiency, enabling a quick start, and streamlining essential tasks. The design and structure of the da Vinci XI system, for example, is based on efficiency. The arms are mounted to a boom, which can rotate to many angles over the patients—without having to move the base. This enables effective four-quadrant access, and, when using Integrated Table Motion, surgeons can reposition the patient to optimize access, exposure, and reach without stopping a procedure. The da Vinci XI system also contains a fully integrated endoscope, which requires no set-up, and surgeons can flip the endoscope view 30 degrees up and down with the press of a button. This gives the surgeon complete control over the camera.” 

“In addition, a digitally connected ecosystem may support enhanced capabilities, intraoperative collaboration, and personalized learning that supports efficiency. Integrated intelligence can illuminate insights within OR data to potentially streamline instrument usage, OR efficiency, and staffing models,” Wong added. “As one example, data can help users analyze and understand the demand for robotic procedures—everything from the number and length of cases, to the instruments used during procedures to help align staffing resources.”

Cyber concerns 

Stories of medical devices getting hacked are released almost every day in the news. Luckily, industry experts are prepared. Asensus Surgical’s Vaughan said, “Our team is dedicated to ensuring that the deployment of these technologies is done in a manner that addresses the concerns of clinicians, hospital administration, as well as the patients. Our process takes all of these stakeholders into account, and we use independent third-party reviews and testing to ensure that we are not putting data or devices at risk.” 

As for cybersecurity concerns, Getinge’s Meevis commented, “Having a quality cybersecurity incident-response plan can unquestionably offset any worry. It comes down to product design and being prepared for moments like that. At Getinge, we take cybersecurity and privacy very seriously—for our company and our clients. Since last year, we’ve implemented more mandatory training for employees, to reiterate the importance of privacy and cybersecurity. The goal is to help familiarize them with the various tools and resources in place to assist them in handling cyber-related scenarios with customers and our digital solutions. So, while there is always going to be some worry with advanced technologies, it comes down to the education and resources available, as well as planning ahead to help reassure any customer on their concerns.” 

The future is bright 

“The future is unpredictable, but if there is anything the healthcare industry has learned over the last few years, it is always changing and evolving,” noted Getinge’s Meevis. “I think the future in this space will always focus on prioritizing and improving patient care and optimizing workflows to make that possible. That’s consistent across any specialty or area in healthcare. While unpredictable, the future is bright in this space because there is certainly no shortage of innovation and the need for life-changing technologies to help save people’s lives. At Getinge, we pride ourselves on the people within our organization that have forward-thinking attitudes that assist in the development of these innovative ideas that will surely change the game of healthcare in this space for years to come.” 

Intuitive Surgical’s Wong said, “For hospitals, the data is already revealing the strengths and opportunities of their respective robotic-assisted practices because they can compare it to non-robotic options to see the value areas. Even the operating room choreography can get mapped and optimized with data analysis, and that could lead toward smoother and more efficient operative workflows. It’s one thing to understand which sets of procedure data are relevant; it’s another to take what’s meaningful and build predictive tools that are truly useful in the OR and help support better patient care.”

He continued, “The impactful application is aimed at building tools that surround the surgeon with information that gives them real-time feedback to support their surgery, their teams, and their patients. AI and machine learning will drive real-time insights based on video-analysis technologies. For example, the system could see how a surgeon sutures two vessels together and advise the surgeon of the probability of an anastomotic leak by comparing what it saw in thousands of other similar procedures. That kind of real-time guidance could help translate into better outcomes. AI won’t displace clinical decision-making, but could better inform it.”

Asensus Surgical’s Vaughan concluded, “Intelligence-backed surgery, or Performance-Guided Surgery, is the future of surgery. Innovation in robotics has long focused on the robot itself, but a shift toward the software powering the robot—including, AI, machine learning, etc.—is opening new pathways to reducing the cognitive and physical burden on surgeons. Against the backdrop of a physician shortage that is only growing more severe, we must continue to develop solutions that support career longevity for our surgeons.”