The Human Element in the Digital Operating Room

In the coming decade, the demand for surgical procedures is expected to continue growing. Advances in surgery create opportunities to improve the quality of life in ways that were not imaginable before, and as the population ages, more surgery is needed. Hips and knees need to be replaced; spines and hearts need to be fixed; half-marathons need to be run; serious skiing needs to be done ⛷. And age is just a number :)

Surgery is increasingly performed in outpatient settings and ambulatory surgery centers. Get your surgery and go home the same day. It must therefore be more affordable, more efficient, safer. Surgical procedures are on their way to become a commodity.

In parallel, the operating room’s complexity is on the rise. New devices, machines and technologies are constantly introduced and need to be implemented and mastered. A huge amount of data is collected from devices and processed, with VR and AI generously sprinkled on top. Robotic surgery is progressing. The idea of a surgeon in LA operating on a patient in Dubai suddenly makes sense. The digital operating room is filling up with the internet of things, and everything connects to everything.

Except for the surgical team.

What does this mean for the human surgical team? Will they get pushed out of the equation as surgery becomes a digital factory? Probably not so quickly. But as the gap between OR congestion and OR complexity grows, the human integration model in surgery must be addressed:

· Team collaboration and communication is key, especially when team allocation frequently changes, or when team members are not co-located. In an asynchronous and digital world, streamlining team alignment is harder to achieve but is ever more critical.

· Maintaining high quality is a challenge as surgery volume increases. The growing pressure on surgical teams to conduct quality-related reporting results in burnout and waste which must be addressed. Surgery cannot scale without continuous improvement processes and automation.

· Care coordination must improve as the pace of surgery increases, patient go in and out of the operating room and the surgical team is not necessarily familiar with their background and history. Orchestrating a smooth patient’s journey, and giving the patient an active part in it, is an important component of the future of surgery.

· Surgical training and education require re-thinking in this frequently changing environment. More efficient and structured teaching can help achieve faster ramp-up and high-quality training despite the pressure to move faster and cut costs.

Facilitating continuous improvement, streamlining communication, eliminating toil, and breaking silos are critical goals in any agile culture that addresses the integration of multiple stakeholders in a highly technological, rapidly changing, environment. While Healthcare presents unique complexities, I believe the operating room is no different.

An agile operating room is not just fancy machinery, 5G, big data and AI. It is about shaping a future where technology optimally serves humans: patients and care-teams.

How do you imagine the future of the operating room?

Co-founder and CEO @Chiefyteam @MayaBerLerner | chiefyteam.com