In his analysis of the future of healthcare, Dr Rafael Grossmann points to virtual and augmented reality as the innovations with the most disruptive potential in the sector.
Dr Rafael Grossmann is known worldwide as the first surgeon to use Google Glass during a surgical process. He defines himself as a healthcare futurist and is a fervent advocate of the potential of new technologies as tools to improve the healthcare system.
From his clinic in a rural area of Maine (USA), where he practices as an advanced laparoscopic, trauma and robotic surgeon, Dr Grossmann has successfully implemented telemedicine solutions to improve communications and connectivity with patients. His desire for disruption has made him an international reference in the field of healthcare innovation and he gives conferences all over the world. At the Health 2.0 Europe congress held in Barcelona last May, Dr Grossmann explained various concepts related to the future of healthcare for Smart Health.
Google Glass in the surgery
In 2013, I used Google Glass in surgery to transmit an operation; this is the first time something like this had ever been done. Smartglass technology offers fantastic possibilities in the healthcare sphere. What I did was a live ‘streaming’ of a surgical intervention for a group of students located remotely, something that had never been done before. For me, as a surgeon, it didn’t change anything about the operation itself, but for the students who were able to follow the surgery ‘live’ it was a unique and really fascinating experience. This was the first step in what could be a real revolution in the use of smartglasses in healthcare and in medical education.
The future of robotic surgery
When we talk about robotic surgery, it’s just a means of describing it. It’s not actually a robot that performs the surgery, but rather a series of remote robotic tools which can be used by a professional surgeon to perform more precise surgery in high definition. You always think that in the future we’ll be seeing artificial intelligence or ‘deep learning’ systems that will be able to make their own decisions. There’s still a long way to go for this, but the technology is exponential and what we’re seeing now as something highly advanced or even futuristic has already been in development for some years. There are new systems that are already in place but have not yet been used clinically. These are single incision systems that do not leave a scar. The concept of robotic surgery is still the same, but the new tools are going to be far less invasive than current ones, and the vision, mobility and processing of images and movements will be much more advanced.
The potential of telemedicine
Telemedicine was one of my first passions and it’s still the perfect example of how technology can be used intelligently to improve the health system, connect with patients and other colleagues, and improve medical education. Telemedicine improves connectivity and communications, whether this is with large and expensive equipment still in use such as today’s portable devices, or a smartphone. I had the pleasure of giving a Tedx conference on the use of the iPod Touch for emergency trauma consultations. With an appliance that costs 200 dollars we had the technology to potentially save lives as it allows us to link up thousands of miles away and give advice to a physician with less experience, thus improving the quality of medical care given to the patient.
The future of healthcare
In my opinion, the innovations that will be the most important ones in the near future in terms of both healthcare and medical education will be virtual reality and augmented reality. Google Glass was the first step, just like the Ford T was a revolution in the automotive world, but there are now new systems such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung VR headsets, or other more simple ones like Google Cardboard, that immerse you in a world of virtual reality which can be created either digitally or using real 360º recordings. The group with which I work in the United Kingdom, Medical Realities, was the first to perform live surgery with virtual reality, recording it in 360º and streaming the operation live. Some 53,000 people around the world, thanks to Google Cardboard or another viewing system and a smartphone, were able to follow the operation in real time and free of charge as if they were actually standing in the surgery themselves. Imagine the potential of these technologies to improve the quality of medical education, giving a surgeon without a great deal of experience access to surgery performed by an expert in the field.
Health 2.0 Europe in Barcelona
As far as I’m concerned, attending an event of the calibre of Health 2.0 Europe in a city like Barcelona, which to a certain extent is a cradle of civilization, is quite an incredible experience. These congresses and conferences, as well as media such as Smart Health, are the ideal channels for disseminating all these innovations, which are important not only for healthcare professionals but also for patients. Once users are aware that these technologies exist and are already available, they themselves will provide the impetus for change to happen more rapidly. All of us are teachers and communicators, so it is very important to disseminate this information to improve the healthcare systems of the future.
Rafael J. Grossmann Zamora, MD, FACS was born in Caracas (Venezuela). After doing his surgery residency in Ann Arbor (Michigan, USA), he developed as a General, Trauma, Advanced Laparoscopic and Robotic surgeon and now practices in Maine (USA). Throughout his career he has focused on tapping the potential of technology to achieve better and more humane medical care.
As a healthcare futurist, being a full-time practising surgeon, he has acquired the skills, qualities and advantages that clinicians have but which most technology innovators lack. This duality of expertise makes him a voice that should definitely be heard. A voice that impacts and addresses both ends of the spectrum, diversifying the target audience and feeding numerous interests and curiosities.
His driving passion is the intersection of Innovation, Technology and Healthcare. "I know that the exponential development of technology and its intelligent use will have a profound and positive impact on the healthcare system in ways that are difficult even to imagine. I have constantly worked to define myself as a Healthcare Futurist,” he contends.
Dr Grossmann is an avid blogger and social network user (Twitter @ZGJR). He was one of the world’s first Google Glass explorers and was the first doctor to ever use Google Glass during live surgery, an achievement that catapulted him into the digital medicine ecosystem as a disruptor of established medical paradigms and traditional ways of practising.
By Rafael Grossmann
Surgeon, innovator in digital health and healthcare futurist