J&J Institute removes COVID barriers to surgical training

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A new technology that is being used in Australia for the first time allows surgeons to overcome obstacles related to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Three surgeons on Sydney's northern beaches have been waiting to be trained on the latest techniques in bariatric (weight-loss) surgery.

Their mentor, Associate Professor Nick Williams, is based at Calvary Riverina Hospital in Wagga Wagga. This type of surgical training is usually conducted in person with surgeons travelling intrastate, across the country and internationally to perform and oversee live cases. However, state border closures and travel restrictions over the past 18 months have made that near impossible.

A new telementoring platform, made possible by the Johnson & Johnson Institute, is enabling highly experienced doctors in any location to attend and provide virtual instruction during live surgery.

“Nearly one-third of the adult Australian population is classified as obese, yet less than 2 per cent of patients who are eligible for bariatric surgery currently receive it. We have an urgent need to expand the number of surgeons and hospitals providing these life-prolonging procedures, and cannot wait until this pandemic has passed to build those skills,” said Dr Williams.

“Although telementoring isn’t new, past technologies have not been able to service the need for real-time transmission, which is crucial in surgery. Now, thanks to the technology offered through the Johnson & Johnson Institute, we can carry out highly precise procedural training, over significant distances, with a high degree of confidence.”

The new system features a high-definition video transmission system, allowing surgeons in the operating theatre and surgeons watching on from a computer, to interact in step-by-step instruction, with virtually no delay.

The instructor’s voice is heard in the operating theatre. A live video feed allows them to either hand-write their instructions on the screen or use augmented reality technology to overlay hand movements or images such as patient scans, that can be seen and replicated by the surgeons in theatre. Each detailed step of a live procedure is done in sync with the instructor’s guidance.

“Enabling teaching hospitals to adopt this kind of medical technology opens up a multitide of possibilities,” said Johnson & Johnson Institute spokesperson, Jennifer Spurgeon.

“When used to its full potential, this system can boost the success rate of difficult surgeries, while reducing the burden on medical resources. More importantly, it can be expected to eliminate regional medical disparities and contribute to improved patient outcomes. For a country like Australia, with vast expanses between cities and remote territory, the possibilities are almost endless.”