Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Overexposure During Surgery: Too Much Media?

The modern attraction for live presentations and entertainment may have transferred itself into the surgical field. The use of new laparoscopic techniques now allows for the introduction of cameras into the surgical field to observe procedures. Dr. Adam Wolfberg (Tufts Medical Center), reports for Slate (August 18, 2009) about the advent of live-surgery for surgical conference attendees:
Combining education with entertainment and patient care with promotion, live telesurgery is a fixture at surgical conferences and marketing campaigns by hospitals and medical device manufacturers. It's natural that conference attendees want to see the best surgeons performing the most advanced procedures with the newest equipment. There's no inherent reason why they need to watch it happen live—a narrated DVD would provide the same or better educational experience, with mundane sections eliminated and critical points in the surgery highlighted. But try telling that to conference organizers who know that live telesurgery is, rationally or not, a high point of many conferences.
A case of advertising, the human desire for entertainment, the surgeons need to prove themselves, and the spectators need to believe that others make the same mistakes that they do have fed into this developing trend. What remains unclear is whether the interests of the patient are best served by a distracted surgeon and an eager audience. Certainly the use of expert surgeons to teach others is invaluable, especially when the alternative might be to travel hundreds of miles to scrub in for a procedure. But the level of multitasking and distraction apparent in media oriented surgery can be disconcerting. Whether telesurgery will replace physical observation as the 21st century equivalent remains to be seen.

Michael Shusterman is the Editor in Chief of TuftScope (2009 - 2010).
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