Forget Fitness Trackers: Let’s Use Big Data to Give Surgery a Lift

We could score surgeons with precision, if they'll let us

What if surgeons could watch their progress, how they stacked up and, in a measurable way, improve? (Photo via Getty)

What if surgeons could watch their progress, how they stacked up and, in a measurable way, improve? (Photo via Getty)

Surgeons—well paid, godlike and overworked—hold our lives in our hands, and are the typical subjects of nigh unrivaled trust. But not all surgeons are made alike, and the difference between a great surgeon and a fumbling novice can mean a speedy recovering or tragic remission.

It’s only been recently that the medical community has even recognized a strong correlation between the skill of an individual surgeon and the long-term health of a patient:

Enter Amplio, an app in development at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that stacks up a surgeon’s performance on the cutting-room floor against their peers. Amplio can plot the progress of surgeon’s patients against other surgeons performing the same procedure—a visualization that can put a surgeon’s skills into serious perspective. From Backchannel’s profile of Amplio:

[T]here was a surgeon who saw that they were so far into the wrong corner of that plot — patients weren’t recovering well, and the cancer was coming back — that they decided to stop doing the procedure. The men spared poor outcomes by this decision will never know that Amplio saved them.

But getting surgeons to participate could be the biggest problem in finding wide-spread adoption. Surgeons—like any other working professional—often see evaluation programs less as a friendly way to find better outcomes, and more of a nuisance that, at worst, tell hospital chiefs and officials identify about the weak links in the ward.

“Obviously, submitting videotapes of yourself operating and submitting to peer rating is threatening at multiple levels, and would be a serious challenge for many trying to replicate this type of study,” Dr. John Birkmeyer, author of a landmark study on the correlation between surgeon skill and patient outcomes, told the Association for Academic Surgery for their blog.

Still, Amplio has more promising potential outcomes than other mediocre attempts at using tech to address America’s miserable health. Until Fitbit or Jawbone can figure out a way to get people to strap on a fitness tracker and keep it on without getting bored, the “selves” we should be quantifying should be the paid professionals who have our health in their hands.

Read Backchannel’s full profile of Amplio here.

Forget Fitness Trackers: Let’s Use Big Data to Give Surgery a Lift