As cloud and digital platforms continue to gain traction, we’re seeing a trend toward increased investments in robotic surgery in medical technology fields. Surgical training, coordination, and collaboration in the operating room are areas where digital tools can help shorten learning curves.
While robotic technology continues to transform healthcare worldwide by allowing surgeons to perform cases with increased precision and decreasing patient downtime, use of surgical robotics does have an increased learning curve and time required for mastery. This is where many companies have begun to make a difference in surgical robotics.
Explorer Surgical, a cloud-based digital platform for surgical teams and med device companies, has expanded its one-of-a-kind digital playbook for use in robotic surgery, also offering video capabilities and robust data collection to provide support and gather insights into procedural workflow and performance.
Explorer Live aims to simplify the way teams communicate and receive feedback for improvement. With Explorer Live, the processes and workflows of a robotic procedure are accessible before a surgical team does any case – whether it’s the first or the 100th case – a massive support for creating consistency when using robotic technology.
We had a chance to interview Jennifer Fried, CEO of Explorer Surgical, to learn more about the technology and industry impact they are having in this quickly growing area of medicine.
Alice Ferng, Medgadget: Tell me a bit about yourself and what led you to founding Explorer Surgical.
Jennifer Fried, CEO and Co-founder of Explorer Surgical: My background is on the finance side as an early-stage healthcare investor. I co-founded the Explorer Surgical while in graduate school at The University of Chicago with Dr. Alex Langerman in the Department of Surgery, studying operating room workflow and operation room efficiency.
The company was founded with the vision to provide the entire intraoperative team (both clinicians and industry) with an easy-to-use, digital platform that enables efficiency, communication, and collaboration. Our goal is to demystify the black box of the operating room with an on-demand procedure playbook, real-time video collaboration, and performance tracking tools to support medical device companies in strengthening techniques, accelerate product adoption and support successful outcomes.
Medgadget: Surgical innovations are quickly becoming a hot topic area in the world – how is Explorer Surgical leading this charge?
Ms. Fried: Explorer Surgical is dedicated to relentlessly innovating and developing scalable digital technologies to put best practices in the hands of all procedural teams. For the past decade, our team has been creating state-of-the-art technology designed for intraoperative use. Our cutting-edge, cloud-based, digital platform empowers medical device companies to disseminate procedural best practices and remotely connect with providers in real-time. We work across surgical and interventional specialties and often work with customers who are introducing new technologies and procedural approaches.
Medgadget: What are some of the important gaps in the surgical field you’ve identified? Which ones are you working on addressing?
Ms. Fried: One of the largest challenges we’ve identified across a range of specialties is this: variability in the procedure suite can lead to variability in patient outcomes. That variability can also lead to steep learning curves, lack of standardization in training, and slow product adoption for truly live-saving therapies.
Medgadget: How do you use the data you’ve collected to inform future product directions? What kind of data is this?
Ms. Fried: Compiled from thousands of surgeries, Explorer found that up to 10 percent of intraoperative time is spent on preventable delays, which is consistent across most surgical specialties. In addition, research from Explorer through the University of Chicago found that the largest contributing variable to intraoperative delays were new surgical team members learning a surgeon’s procedures and preferences.
When working with our medical device companies, we collect precise data points on the exact steps of the procedure where a trainee is having trouble. For example, one device company used Explorer Live to identify a specific step that was only performed according to exact protocol ~75% of the time. Using that data, they were able to restructure their training program and increase adherence to their best practices.
Another example is of a surgical robotics company that identified differences in procedure time from one surgeon to another using Explorer Live. Through their playbook, they also collected the exact instrumentation that was used, and it turned out that one surgeon performed the procedure faster by using a different instrument than the other. With data like this, surgical robotics companies can move closer to standardizing how procedures are performed to support successful case outcomes around the world.
Medgadget: What do you see in the future of surgical robotics? Let’s say 10 years from now. What sorts of technologies and surprising changes can we expect?
Ms. Fried: With so much innovation in minimally invasive video capture, I think we’ll start to see a lot more real-time AI and machine learning that can assist a surgeon or physician live during a procedure. For example, if a machine learning algorithm can identify specific anatomical landmarks inside a patient’s body, it may be able to make recommendations for what the surgeon’s next step should be.
Medgagdet: There’s many companies talking about training and improving the learning curves for OR procedures and processes, but what are some of the areas that could use the most attention?
Ms. Fried: One of our clinical advisors, Dr. Vasili Karas, says it best: “In particular with robotic technology, it’s brand new to several people – it’s not like changing from one implant vendor to another. It’s a true paradigm shift in the operating room.” Dr. Karas is an orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and uses Explorer Live so that his team can beat that learning curve in real-time. And that’s one of the greatest gaps in surgical robotics training today – a lack of real-time guidance and training tools that a team can follow along with live during a procedure. That’s what Explorer Live’s digital playbook aims to solve.
Medgadget: Sometimes folks also wonder with robotics and automation coming to the forefront whether we’re eliminating the need for people. Will we ever replace the human surgeon? Should we?
Ms. Fried: I don’t believe there will ever be a day where we will replace the human surgeon altogether, nor will we replace the medical device representative and clinical support that is critical in so many procedures. What technology can do, however, is augment the surgeon and team with best practices built from thousands and thousands of procedures, so that the surgeon is making the best decisions live during the procedure in order to obtain the best clinical outcome.