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December 7, 2018updated 23 Dec 2019 10:23am

RCS report highlights tech that will drive the future of surgery

The Royal College of Surgeons’ independent Commission on the Future of Surgery has predicted that surgery is set to be transformed for millions of patients due to an influx of new technologies.

By Charlotte Edwards

The Royal College of Surgeons’ independent Commission on the Future of Surgery has predicted that surgery is set to be transformed for millions of patients due to an influx of new technologies.

The report was published today and expects surgery to become much less invasive, more personalised and predictable, with faster recovery times and a lower risk of harm.

The commission, which is made up of some of the UK’s leading doctors, engineers, data experts, managers, and patient representatives, was set up to investigate what advances will be transforming surgery over the next 20 years. It found that some of the new innovations will be changing surgery for the better in the next few months.

The technological innovations are expected to affect every type of surgery, including the way it is provided and the way surgeons are trained.

It is thought that more diseases could be diagnosed by blood samples instead of invasive biopsies and that patients who are not yet ill will undergo earlier and sometimes preventive operations. The commission also predicts that hundreds of thousands of patients may no longer need to undergo some cancer operations due to advances in genomics, vaccination and non-surgical treatments.

Other interesting predictions were that, in the more distant future, surgeons may prevent osteoarthritis through stem cell therapies, and nano-surgery performed by micro-robots could allow surgeons to operate on individual cells in the body.

The report highlighted a number of areas of technological development that are predicted to have the greatest impact on how surgical care will be delivered over the next two decades. These included robot-assisted surgery and minimally-invasive surgery, imaging, data, genomics and artificial intelligence, and specialised interventions like transplant developments.

Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery chair Richard Kerr said: “We’re standing on the verge of transformative changes in surgery that have the potential to dramatically improve patients’ care, helping them to live healthier lives for longer. We are now moving from the era of freehand surgery to the digitalisation of surgery, where surgeons are supported by data, genomic analysis and new tools such as robotics.

“Of course some of these technologies will remain science-fiction, with certain clinical challenges too big to overcome, and there may be other innovations we haven’t foreseen. Yet, with new surgical robots, for example those coming to the market in 2019, it seems reasonable to conclude that millions of patients will soon benefit from many of these new technologies.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to be part of the surgical team, as technology is going to enable us to do so much more to keep our patients healthy. Better diagnosis and a more detailed understanding of how illnesses develop, thanks to advances in genomics and genetic testing, will give us the tools to tackle disease at an earlier stage. We will be able to act early and tailor surgery to the needs of individual patients, and therefore likely operating on patients who are otherwise well.”

The report has also made a number of recommendations to the UK Government, healthcare regulators and medical royal colleges to ensure the surgical community is able to adapt to coming changes and enable patients to fully benefit from advances. These recommendations include a UK-wide database for tracking all new devices and techniques, investment in the creation of multidisciplinary hubs for the delivery of complex interventions and surgical training for all clinicians who will need to embrace the upcoming changes.

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