Tackling COVID-19 together: how technology is enabling surgeons to stay connected, stay safe and stay engaged
05 Jun 2020
Jamila S. Karim, Nadine Hachach-Haram and Richard Kerr
Dr Jamila S. Karim is the Head of Research at Proximie and a former core surgical trainee. Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram is a Consultant Plastic Surgeon and the Head of Clinical Innovation at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. She is also the Founder of Proximie. Mr Richard Kerr is a Consultant Neurosurgeon at John Radcliffe Hospital and an RCS Council Member. In this blog series, the authors review how technology solutions are being used to help healthcare professionals stay connected, safe, and engaged throughout and following the coronavirus pandemic.
Unprecedented. Uncertain. Unpredictable. These are just a few terms continuously being used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within a few weeks, COVID-19 has forced the surgical community to rapidly adapt to a completely new way of delivering care. Surgeons of all grades have been redeployed to meet the increasing demand for intensive care services, reducing the workforce available to treat surgical patients. Elective procedures have been halted for the foreseeable future. Guidelines for the treatment of acute conditions and oncology patients are being re-evaluated to provide clinicians and patients with a framework to help weigh the risks and benefits of surgical intervention during the pandemic. Moreover, each procedure that takes place at this time is being carefully considered in view of the potential risk of infection that it may pose both to the patient and to the surgical team. In essence, COVID-19 has truly changed the way that surgeons of all specialties think, practise and operate.
It is imperative that the surgical community unites during this tumultuous time to tackle the COVID-19 challenge with innovation and decisive action. To meet the need, purpose-built technology solutions are being developed at pace to help clinicians stay connected, stay safe and stay engaged both during and following the pandemic.
Maintaining open communication amongst healthcare professionals will be vital to the success of the COVID-19 response.
From basic telehealth platforms to more complex augmented reality solutions, technology is increasingly being deployed to foster connectivity between surgical teams in order to support teaching and training, disseminate best practice and share expertise on a global scale.
For instance, WeShare Healthcare is an online platform founded by UK clinicians in response to the pandemic to support healthcare professionals to share ideas and develop solutions to challenges that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. In May, WeShare hosted a virtual summit to identify strategies to address common concerns amongst clinicians when re-introducing services that were placed on hold at the onset of the pandemic.
Proximie is another homegrown solution that is being used to transcend lockdown limitations and connect international experts for management of difficult surgical cases. The technology was recently employed intra-operatively during a complex transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedure to virtually connect an expert surgeon in Copenhagen and a medical device representative in the US with a consultant cardiologist on the frontline in Beirut. Given current travel restrictions, physically connecting this team of experts to perform the life-saving operation would have been impossible.
'Proximie is another homegrown solution that is being used to transcend lockdown limitations.'
Globally, clinicians are recognising the value of using technology to provide patient consultations remotely, thereby reducing the potential spread of infection. In response, the US government has recently devised legislation to facilitate the use of telehealth solutions by ensuring that doctors employing these technologies can claim for appropriate reimbursement and through waiving cross-state licensure requirements for clinicians delivering care during the pandemic.
In the UK, several applications are being developed to support infection control measures. The Proximie ITU technology system aims to streamline services and support clinicians to remotely connect with healthcare staff at the patient’s bedside via live video feed in order to provide advice in real time. The platform will not only safeguard clinicians against the potential spread of infection, but also reduce demands on PPE resources and eliminate the time that it takes to don PPE prior to reviewing a patient.
Platforms that facilitate remote preoperative assessment and consent, such as MySurgery, are also being considered as an option to reduce the risk of patients contracting COVID-19 preoperatively.
As the surgical community directs its focus and energy towards COVID-19, it can be overwhelming to consider the challenges that will persist when surgeons re-engage with everyday practice following the pandemic. How will we manage the increasing number of patients who have been unable to undergo elective procedures during the pandemic? How will trainees compensate for a period of de-skilling and regain confidence in performing routine procedures?
While educational programmes have inevitably been disrupted by the pandemic, multiple surgical societies and institutions are using this opportunity to create educational content using technology platforms. From e-learning workshops to interactive webinars, resources are being developed to support trainees to maintain their core surgical knowledge and to learn new skills, such as airway and ventilation management.
For instance, an ENT consultant surgeon recently transformed the anatomy sessions that he typically performs at the Keele Anatomy and Surgical Training Centre (KASTC) into remotely accessible interactive anatomy masterclasses to support continued education in this area.
By maintaining engagement with educational opportunities during COVID-19, the surgical community can ensure that it is as prepared as possible to meet the demands that will be placed on the NHS and surgical trainees following the peak of the pandemic.
Surgeons are trained to be resilient, adaptable and collaborative life-long learners. As we navigate the unchartered waters ahead, it is vital that the surgical community stays connected, stays safe and stays engaged.
We must and will evolve through this crisis together.
'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.'
– African Proverb