Shafi Ahmed puts on a pair of digital sunglasses and explains how the tiny lenses built into its black plastic frame, which can capture high-resolution images, are transforming how doctors get trained in operating rooms.
The British colorectal surgeon used Snap Inc.’s high-tech spectacles a year ago to walk rookie physicians and millions of curious viewers through a hernia operation using the Snapchat photo-sharing app.
In 2018, he plans to beam his avatar into operating rooms with so-called immersive technology, which spans everything from military training to adult entertainment, and promises to support the next generation of doctors with real-time supervision and tutelage.
“Doctors do not need to feel out of their depth, and this technology will allow them to get help whenever required,” says Ahmed, whose early adoption of digital technology and social media has seen him recognized as the planet’s most-watched surgeon, with more than 2 million views and 50 million Twitter posts for the Snapchat surgery alone. “We all need support and help when faced with a tricky situation.”
Ahmed used Microsoft Corp.’s HoloLens headsets to virtually bring together surgeons from the BMI London Independent Hospital and Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai to operate together on a bowel-cancer patient in October. Each colleague was able to view tumor scans that appeared as 3D holograms, and could “see” each other as graphic avatars, standing and speaking as if together in the operating room at the Royal London Hospital.
Promising phenomenal growth
“My story is about connecting people globally,” Ahmed, 48, said in his office at the London Independent Hospital.
An associate dean of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, the Bangladesh-born surgeon performed the world’s first virtual reality operation recorded and streamed live in 360-degree, or immersive, video in 2016.
It was viewed live by 55,000 people in 142 countries and downloaded 200,000 times on YouTube, he said.
Ahmed co-founded Medical Realities Ltd., which began last April offering a free virtual reality interactive learning module for surgical trainees.
The global digital health market, which includes everything from fitness apps and wearable devices to consultations over the Internet, will reach $537 billion by 2025 from $196 billion in 2017, Transparency Market Research said in September.
Continuous innovations are needed to meet the changing demands and future challenges of medicine, said Luke Slawomirski, a health economist and policy analyst with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.
The Australasian College isn’t in favor of live-streaming surgeries because of privacy concerns and the potential to distract and pressure the surgeon, he said.
“It’s treating surgery more as entertainment,” Quinn said. “It’s almost voyeuristic and putting people’s privacy greatly at risk, while they are showing things around the world to all sorts of people.”
Ahmed says that, beside the training function of his online operations, engaging with and educating the public helps to demystify surgery and make it more transparent.
“We have to challenge dogma and tradition in health,” said Ahmed, who won a national training award in 2015 and is on the council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. “Unless you challenge, you will settle with mediocrity, stuck in the Dark Ages.”