A reminder that stories of the patients we serve compel us to act
Long before starting Prescient Surgical, our team of surgeons and device experts was keenly aware of the challenges of surgical site infection. My surgeon co-founders could cite the multi-factorial etiology of SSI on command. At Medtronic Minimally Invasive Therapies Group I personally recall conversations with colorectal surgeons where the topic was discussed frequently. Cost, reoperations, quality, and reputation were consistent themes. Yet notably, none of these abstract concepts were sufficient to drive us to act.
Years later, we were together compelled to answer the call to action to develop CleanCision. So what changed?
In 2012 we spent over 4 hours with a patient who I'll simply call George for privacy. George was introduced to us by a close surgeon friend that performed his operation resulting in a wound infection. George shared the excruciating details of the pain he suffered at the incision site, further compounded by dreadful daily dressing changes and eventual hernia operations. He shared feelings of shame and disappointment from his festering wound. He assumed it was somehow his responsibility, a reflection of his personal hygiene. Given a new lease on a cancer-free life, George had instead inherited yet another medical hurdle to clear.
Notably, George had a long, successful career in high-tech manufacturing in Silicon Valley. At a time when the country was roiled in debates over rising healthcare costs, George likened his SSI "defect" to the manufacturing "re-work" the microchip industry tackled to drive exponential performance gains and incredible economic efficiencies. I got the feeling that the system-level inefficiencies of SSI gnawed at George far more than anything he personally suffered from the complication.
Moore's Law would not exist if manufacturers spent their time fixing defects. George's concrete analogy reminds us that healthcare can't scale if we don't focus on quality first. Quality matters, and the potential gains are enormous. George was a big fan of our nascent mission to make surgery safer: "You're not just preventing the cost, pain, and suffering of an SSI, you're building healthcare capacity. Go tell the hospital CEO that you're building her another ward...and with zero capital expenditures!"
The surgeon's perspective was singularly changed by George's experience and candor. From "I've cured this person's cancer which naturally carries risks of minor complications" to "The suffering is real and not minor. If I could do something more to address the root cause of surgical infection, why wouldn't I?"
Candid patient encounters like these are rare, but solid gold in an environment dominated by HIPPA and ever-increasing demands on time-strapped physicians. They have a unique ability to encourage empathy-driven care and a relentless focus on patient reported outcomes.