“…we expect to be leaders over the long term, and not just in one procedure, because—across all procedures, and be the company who rewrites the way surgery is done in the next decade. So make no mistake, this is a core area for us, and we’ll see much more of—about robots than just the two that you’re looking at today in the future.”
Rewrite the way surgery is done. That’s a big statement—and likely a sentiment not exclusive to Ishrak and Medtronic either. I’m sure Intuitive Surgical thought the same thing almost 20 years ago when it debuted its da Vinci system. I’m sure the company thought it was rewriting the script for procedures back then.
Look at the orthopedic space; every major player is developing, marketing, or partnering with a company that puts them into the robotic surgical space for implant procedures. Robotic-assisted surgical solutions are most certainly here to stay.
But there’s more.
While the intelligence behind the development of these advanced systems is decidedly human, the intelligence driving them is “artificial.” Complex algorithms are being leveraged to limit the surgical field to a specific area. Artificial intelligence (AI) aids the clinician in planning the procedure. It helps steer instrumentation.
AI and robotic surgical systems are traveling toward a convergence that will ultimately enhance healthcare. Or, as Ishrak put it, “rewrite the way surgery is done.”
The time spent writing, reading, and reviewing the top company reports allows one to reflect on what’s been happening in the medtech industry. It goes beyond financial figures and revenue totals included for each member of the featured 30. Rather, it reveals trends, unveils emergent innovation hot spots, and clarifies care priorities. It is always my hope the deep dive these reports provide offers a glimpse into executives’ strategies at these organizations as they drive their companies forward.
This year, the glaring focus for many was on the incorporation of AI. Not all have robotic surgical systems, though. Some are developing imaging systems where AI aids the diagnosis of a condition. Others are engineering technologies that will be used directly with patients to help steer them toward more healthy choices and ultimately, a more healthy lifestyle. Regardless of the application, the foundation being built today with AI is ensuring a more effective healthcare industry for tomorrow.
But there are still challenges to overcome. In this issue’s Supply Chain column, it’s pointed out there’s a competitive advantage to be gained from the sale of intelligent systems to a hospital network. “In the past, a surgeon may have been free to choose among surgical staplers from four or five OEMs in the operating room supply cabinet. But as operating rooms begin to be dominated by networked digital devices, only the products of a single OEM can be counted on to work in tandem to deliver the expected benefit. By building digital ecosystems that incorporate multiple devices, one OEM may have 100 percent market share in a given facility for specific types of care.”
While this may be beneficial from an OEM’s market share viewpoint, is it the best care solution for patients? Whether we’re talking about networked ORs or AI-embedded systems, these products must have the ability to communicate with each other seamlessly. Failure to find common ground on an open communication network that functions across all devices will ultimately limit the benefits of these systems.
The success of a common communication network coupled with increased incorporation of AI in medical technologies leaves me dreaming of a healthcare system that no longer features robotic-assisted surgical systems. Rather, I’m left wondering when the first physician-assisted surgical system will debut. Sure, we’ve got a long way to go before we’re there, but the foundation is being built today. It will come; it’s just a matter of when.
This isn’t to say I see the displacement of surgeons or healthcare professionals. Hardly the case—I view it as similar to an automated assembly plant. Robots perform the repetitive tasks while a human supervisor oversees the operation. While significantly more advanced, is a common surgical procedure that’s been performed thousands of times any different? How often do we hear of fatigue setting in for surgeons due to performing the same tasks over and over? At some point, a robot will do it, not become fatigued, and ultimately, better care will be delivered.
I hope you enjoy this year’s top companies offering. Take time to see what trends emerge for you.
Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief, firstname.lastname@example.org