Op-Ed: Medical Innovation Is a Matter of Life and Death

Education and training standards need to keep pace with the use of robotics in health care.

By Martin Martino, MD
{Published in U.S. News & World Report, August 17, 2017}
Washington Robots are no longer a figurative idea of the future. Much like computers, robotic assist surgery – or “computer-assisted surgery” – is here to stay.

Over just the past decade, we have seen the use of robotics in the medical and surgical community skyrocket – but the development of education and training standards has not kept pace. For many, it is still an abstract concept to imagine how a robot (computer) can be used in surgery – and the benefits it can bring. Yet we see these benefits every day in operating rooms throughout our country.

This past fall, more than 40 robotic registry experts from across the country joined the Food and Drug Administration at a conference in Orlando, Florida, with the goal to develop the first national robotic outcomes registry. What we found from both the technology and health industries is the need to develop a system that will encourage our surgeons to continuously improve and learn different surgical skills. We found that we have to educate our communities about the benefits of minimally invasive surgery. We learned that our industry partners must develop smart tools to improve outcomes.

These are tenets of a Japanese philosophy called kaizen, known in the automotive industry, and it suggests that we must continuously improve or working practices and efficiency. We cannot allow the opportunity for greater improvement slip away from us due to lack of knowledge. The registry is current in development through the help of these industry leaders, the Institute for Surgical Excellence and the FDA.

Major corporations such as Google and Johnson & Johnson are among the many stakeholders who have recognized the need to develop the technology of robotic surgery and the great potential it can bring to patients worldwide. It is our responsibility as physicians and surgeons to deliver the highest quality of surgical care and outcomes for our patients and to utilize the most appropriate tools to help our patients achieve an improved outcome.

When medical professionals choose their careers, we learn that professional education never ceases – this is also known as lifelong learning. Regardless if you are a seasoned veteran or a new doctor just out of medical school, it is a physician’s responsibility to know and understand all treatment and surgical options for our patients. Rapidly changing technology, tests and discoveries are the backbone to the medical profession, and will continue to advance us forward.

How we approach these new technologies will determine our effectiveness as healers, which is why the Institute for Surgical Excellence, a public organization focused on creating solutions for health care problems relating to emerging technologies and improving patient care, is working with the FDA to bring experts together in developing a robotic registry. This registry will allow us to determine the impact of robotic surgery on patient outcomes, and where improvements are needed.

After nearly 12 years as a cancer surgeon, and the majority of that time teaching robotics, I have seen the remarkable patient outcomes and great potential through implementing standardized training and education programs in new surgical innovations.

If we want to continue to move innovations in surgery forward, we must recognize the need to come together with health care systems, insurers, payers and technology partners working together with one common goal: to improve the health of our patients.

It’s not just a convenience; it is a matter of life and death.

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