As the global health care infrastructure steadies itself in the wake of COVID-19, it reminds me about how much has changed from the first time I stepped into an operating room more than 30 years ago. The digitization of information, the integration of technology and the introduction of new practices have fundamentally changed how care is delivered. As we’ve all coped with the pandemic, the nature of how we work together has changed too. Surgeons like me have been looking for and adopting more innovative ways to keep our skills nimble in order to better serve patients with these new technologies.
Despite the upheaval of this year, several factors remain constant within the foundational principles of healthcare: the importance of patient-focused care, the effectiveness of an integrated care team, and the vital role training and education plays for healthcare professionals.
This last element is all the more important as new tools and technologies get introduced into the practice and delivery of medicine. In the operating room, the introduction of robotic-assisted tools and technologies is an evolution that I have been a part of both as a practicing surgeon and chief medical officer of Intuitive. A growing body of independent, peer-reviewed research (more than 21,000 published studies, at last count) demonstrates that minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery can offer patients benefits, including less blood loss, fewer complications, less time in the hospital, and less chance of readmission compared with open surgery, depending on the procedure.
When I think about the practical advantages of robotic-assisted surgery, I think of my bariatric patients who often have thick abdominal walls, which presented something of a physical challenge for me in open or laparoscopic procedures before I began using robotic tools.
Robotic-assisted systems, tools and technologies helped overcome these issues, enabling me to be an even more effective surgeon for my patients. But - as with any surgical modality - I had to first learn how to safely and effectively use those tools. Without proper training and education to support surgeons and operating room teams, even the most innovative technology will be of limited value to patients.