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'Virtual Surgeon' Transforms The Reach of Surgery
Q&A with Shafi Ahmed, PhD, FRCS, the world's most watched surgeon and healthcare futurist.
OSD Staff
Publish Date: April 24, 2020   |  Tags:   Healthcare IT

You famously performed the world’s first virtual reality surgery in 2016. How does operating in front of 55,000 viewers in 142 countries compare to routine surgery?
It’s not that much different, believe it or not. The surgery was one I’ve routinely performed. It was conducted as a digital training tool ­— to teach and train surgeons from around the globe. All my operations are teaching experiences. Yes, there were news reporters and TV cameras in the OR, but from the moment I held that scalpel, the audience completely disappeared. It felt like I was training just a few people close to me. When I’m performing surgery, when I’m in that zone, the only thing that matters is the safety of the patient and to provide the best outcome.

How will technology impact surgery five, 10 or even 15 years from now?
It will transform patient care in ways we can’t even imagine right now. It’s the most exciting time to practice medicine because technology is making the world a smaller place, and there are so many opportunities to make healthcare more equitable. There’s a wonderful convergence of cutting-edge technologies that are becoming cheaper and more accessible by the minute. This convergence is changing the paradigm of surgical training and education. Thanks to tools like virtual and augmented reality, surgeons from around the globe can be with me in the OR.

What prevents surgical professionals from utilizing technology to its greatest potential?
A fear of change. For many medical professionals, change is a giant — and difficult — mindset to fully embrace. But it’s also essential that we do so. If we don’t challenge the dogma of older and sometimes outdated methods of healthcare teachings and practices, then we accept mediocrity. We must always put patient safety first, make sure outcomes are measured and do our due diligence, but we must drive innovation and work to improve outcomes. Those who become stagnant will lose out.

What type of legacy do you hope to leave?
Sharing knowledge is a core belief for me. Technology has allowed me to rise above my natural aspiration and achieve more than I ever thought would be possible. Whether it’s empowering surgeons through Facebook Live training, live-tweeting the world’s first virtual surgery or performing first-of-its-kind procedures using Google Glass, these powerful tech platforms have allowed me to share my knowledge with the maximum amount of people. It’s all about connectivity. To help a billion people, you need to connect a billion minds. OSM