Training surgeons remotely
9 October 2023
Director of simulation training, George Saleh, embarked on a four-month sabbatical to further his research and clinical work for the benefit of Moorfields patients.
Moorfields Eye Charity supported George by ensuring that his clinical service role was covered by a colleague to ensure continuity of care.
During his sabbatical he focused on two key areas:
- Improving access to surgical training simulators
- Piloting a new AI tool that could support medical teams during surgical operations
More important than ever
Virtual reality training has been shown to lead to better surgical outcomes.
One of George’s aims was to broaden the number and range of surgeons accessing virtual reality surgical simulators for cataract surgery to enhance training.
Unfortunately, he had just started his sabbatical when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
With many of his colleagues redeployed to help look after patients in intensive care or shielding themselves, he volunteered to return to clinical work to support the NHS response to the pandemic.
With the extra challenges it presented, a lot of research was put on hold – and without the dedicated time that the sabbatical allowed me, it would have been incredibly difficult to dedicate the time and energy that these projects needed to see them come to such exciting conclusion.
By the time he returned to continue his sabbatical, improving access to surgical simulators for training was more important than ever.
Numerous non-emergency operations were postponed during the lockdowns, and many surgeons - newer trainees and seasoned consultants alike - would benefit from the practice and opportunity to refresh their skills before returning to operating theatres.
Protecting surgeons and patients
Retraining through simulation would help ensure patient safety as surgeons returned to this work, but it also led to massive demand for training time on simulators.
Moreover, with social distancing rules, trainers couldn’t sit with trainees using the simulator and run training sessions in the room.
George, therefore, helped develop a way of networking simulators together and streaming immersive Virtual Reality (VR) video feeds from simulators to trainees over the internet.
This allowed trainers to deliver high-quality, safe, socially-distanced sessions without needing to be physically in the room.
By ensuring more equitable and efficient use of these vital training resources, surgical outcomes for potentially tens of thousands of patients nationwide each year could be improved.
Using AI to support surgeons
George also used his sabbatical to work with a startup called TouchSurgery to test a new AI tool designed to support operating surgeons in real time.
The tool is the first ever to offer real-time safety alerts and feedback to medical teams during an operation, which can improve outcomes when married up to standard post- and pre-op data.
AI has pervaded a lot of facets of modern life, visibly and behind the scenes, and is making strong inroads in ophthalmology. This work has been the most substantive and pioneering yet in the domain of cataract surgery and has demonstrated enormous operational and safety potential, and continued work will help make this a reality.
Thanks to George’s role in developing the technology, Moorfields will receive free use of the tool for five years.
It will help increase the safety of operations for patients, provide training opportunities for new surgeons, and potentially save millions of pounds at Moorfields.
Despite the disruptions caused by Covid, George’s sabbatical was hugely successful.
Now, he’s looking to widen this network of surgical simulators, further improving access to this critical training tool and improving patient safety nationwide.
George’s work during his sabbatical also led to his appointment as the Royal College of Ophthalmology virtual and augmented reality lead, allowing him to continue developing his work in this area.