When medicine is about saving and improving lives, medical technology is about making it easier, more precise and less problematic for doctors and patients.
There is a catch, however. It takes diligence and years of hard work to master the complex human body sufficiently to follow the basic principle of medicine – primum non nocere (firstly, do no harm). Technology is like a teenager with adrenaline; does not stay still, is always on the move and not easy to catch up with.
If, as a medical device manufacturer, you step away from medicine for a minute, you are very much aware of your competition.
So that you can assert yourself economically, you have to offer your customer an appealing experience and a convincing argument to choose your product over the competition. That benefit could be in terms of cost, technology, or, as we’ll see here, the use of technology to make the device easier to use while ensuring that “no harm is done”.
Imagine you are a surgeon looking for a specific organ in the body. You need to get in, fix a serving, and get out without damaging anything else. How about blindfolded?
Relax! Technology helps surgeons “see” what their eyes can’t directly. In addition, the technology helps them get in and out without causing damage.
For example, a skillful cystoscopy can ensure that the ureters are not damaged during a laparoscopic hysterectomy. Let’s see how virtual reality (VR) can make this happen.
Small cuts for big profits
Whenever a surgeon needs to access an organ stowed in a rather crowded abdomen, the traditional approach is to make an incision that can be up to 12 inches long. You need such a large opening to see what you’re doing and to get inside. Among other things, this keeps the patient in the hospital longer and leaves a rather prominent scar.
Enter laparoscopy. In this procedure, instead of one large opening, surgeons make a series of small incisions. You insert a laparoscope, a slim device with a tiny video camera and light, and other specialty instruments through the incisions. Job done, the tiny cuts heal quickly and the patient is out of the hospital quickly.
Hysterectomy is a procedure in which a gynecologist removes the uterus. Most patients and surgeons prefer the laparoscopic route for this operation. The most common complication of a laparoscopic hysterectomy is collateral damage to the ureters, which is difficult to see.
What if there was a way to light the ureters? Good idea! Except that gynecologists aren’t urologists. The latter are more familiar with the cystoscopic procedure required to enter the ureter. Simply adding a urologist to the surgical team adds to the cost.
Can technology make gynecologists more comfortable with the idea of inserting a light into the ureter? This is where the digital agency comes in.
Show how to lower the barrier
The customer, a well-known manufacturer of medical products, had developed a special cold light. If the gynecologists could use a cystoscope (like the laparoscope, a special thin tube inserted into the body through the urethra), they could position the filament that emits light in both ureters.
The light would act like an illuminated warning sign, helping the gynecologist complete the hysterectomy without disturbing the ureters and without involving a urologist. The lights are safe for the ureters and protect the tubes from accidental damage from laparoscopy.
Dr. Pushkar Khair, Head of Digital Health Care at Ethosh, noted:
Surgeons prefer to stick to their specialty. It’s not that they lack knowledge. It’s just beyond their comfort level and to some extent their zone of trust. The customer asked us to use technology to make it more convenient. Our job was to make a profit not only for the client, but also for the patient, the gynecologist and the hospital.
Gynecologists do not require instruction in anatomy or cystoscopy in its entirety. You just need to familiarize yourself with the scope to place the filaments.
What if we gave them a realistic opportunity to practice filament placement? With VR, you would be responsible for the entire process. And they could try it out as often as they wanted.
Study the real to do the virtual
The first step in developing the solution was for Ethosh’s doctors to observe the cystoscopy, which was performed by skilled surgeons.
Nikhil Pathak, Head of VR and AR at Ethosh explained::
Finding the right anatomy is important. But we also have to find the right placement of the hands, the movements and the path. Unlike creating a video, which is all about creative visualization as part of a written script, in VR the user is essentially the writer and the director. Our challenge is to realistically represent as many likely scenarios as possible.
The problem was well established. Even if the clients (the gynecologists) had accepted the possible solution, in theory it would have remained a great idea if they hadn’t got the hang of it. The VR solution thus became an important marketing tool for the customer. The trial runs enabled by VR increased surgeons confidence and allowed them to complete the core procedure without worrying about collateral damage.
Dr. Pushkar noted:
It is important to remember that our solution is not intended for the actual process. At best, it can be described as an induction tool for a small but critical part of a major surgical procedure. It does not seek to replace the ability, it only helps to build the professional’s confidence to go beyond the comfort zone in the patient’s greater interest.
As a doctor, I believe that the greatest motivation for any surgeon to use the VR tool is the prospect of having a flawless record of performance. “
Bridging practice and perfection
Virtual reality is already an important medical training tool that teaches and sharpens surgical skills. It takes time to progress after your stay. Research has shown that complications and, worse, death rates are more likely to occur until the surgeon gains experience. Thankfully, VR helps surgeons stay sharp throughout their careers.
What about marketing? VR is usually associated with science fiction and fantasy, which cannot help the manufacturer of sophisticated surgical equipment and solutions. When it comes to saving a life or improving its quality, the challenge is to provide a marketing solution that gets the job done efficiently and without the distraction.
Rahul Deshpande, CEO of Ethosh, said:
This project was an unusual challenge for us. We had to achieve near surgical perfection in developing the solution. At the same time, we had to take into account that we had a solution for sale. While the users were likely to be convinced of its merit, the challenge was to give them the confidence and positive attitude to adopt the solution. In a way, we helped sell the solution by teaching them how to use it.
Will technology finally break the walls between medical specialties? Unlikely! However, technology can help you get over the wall and borrow a skill if it is in the best interests of the life you want to heal. Why stop doing no harm when VR can help you make good things better?
Medical tech is one of the areas that Ethosh specializes in using AR and VR to tell haunting customer-centric stories to sell, educate, and support.