If you don't succeed, try and try again. Unless you are a surgeon. But this is all about to change, using nothing but pixels and data.
Touch Surgery's cofounders, Dr. Jean Nehme and Dr. Andre Chow, are young surgeons who taught themselves how to code. Now, they're on a mission to transform medicine – by digitalizing it.
Practicing an acute trauma craniotomy / IMAGE: GIF VIA TOUCH SURGERY
Touch Surgery, a UK-based medical training startup, has developed an immersive surgical simulator that replicates complex procedures, breaking them down in steps. It's available in app form, allowing users to transform their fingertips into scalpels on the go. That way, surgery newbies can attempt complex procedures all they want, without risking actual lives. The next step is to deliver the immersive and freakishly realistic 3D animations in VR form.
Practice makes perfect.
Traditionally, young surgeons don't really get any trial and error sessions before they step into the operating room. It's kind of like learning to fly a plane without using the flight simulator.
This is changing, thanks to apps like Touch Surgery. After visiting their enormous two-floor space, I attempted a simple hand surgery, step by step, in thin air, while wearing a HoloLens headset.
No patients were harmed in the writing of this article.
The simulation itself is pretty straight forward and your actions as a digital surgeon are limited. You can only strictly follow the steps outlined. So no impromptu incisions. You also can't see what happens if you do something wrong like puncturing a vein. (So it's nothing like the board game Operation.)
This makes the simulator a bit constrained and rigid in its virtual representations, but maybe that's the point. Touch Surgery is supposed to prepare surgeons for the specific steps they need to take on the operating table. It's about helping them improve their decision-making and making it as close to the real thing as possible.
IMAGE: GIF VIA MASHABLE
The Touch Surgery office harnesses far more than strictly medical expertise. There are people coming from the visual effects industry (more specifically, the world of Star Wars), mobile and gaming developers, and graphic designers.
"We’re able to replicate 3D anatomy and 3D surgical process to a really high degree of fidelity. And we use that to put surgeons into the right mindset to make sure that they’re making decisions as realistically as possible," Dr. Chow said.
They are now collaborating with universities and hospitals to fine-tune and expand the procedures that can be simulated. There are already over a hundred. Touch Surgery has also been picked up by John Hopkins University as part of the procedure evaluating novice surgeons.
The app itself has grown in popularity, with over a million users around the world. Interestingly, a significant number are actually patients. Dr. Chow said Touch Surgery has the added benefit of allowing patients to actually see what the procedure that they are undergoing would look like. That demystifies surgeries from the patient's point of view, which tends to be entirely limited to just before being put to sleep and right after waking up.
The ultimate goal is going global, with the incredible spread of smartphone use across the world.
Precision is key. / IMAGE: GIF VIA TOUCH SURGERY
"There are around 7 billion people on the planet, but 5 billion people don’t have access to safe surgical services," said Dr. Chow. "That’s why we created Touch Surgery – to be part of that story that helps scale surgery to really meet global demand."
Essentially, what the simulator is intended to do is transform access to surgical training and achieve a sense of equality in surgical training around the world.
In other words, one day you won't need to find the best surgeon to perform a complex brain surgery or hand transplant, because surgical services, uniformly, will be able to provide care at a very high and risk-free standard.
"Ultimately," Dr. Chow said, "we want to be at a stage within the next five to ten years, where we can be saying that what Touch Surgery does saves lives."