The Athena Story: How and why an engineer redesigned surgical teaching.
Prior to medical school, I was an engineer, and although I am now a doctor, I still think like an engineer. As a doctor I want to help my patients individually, as an engineer I want to find out how to do things better. Since 1992, when I developed plasticsurgery.com, I have been using Internet technology to enhance our ability to improve our surgery results.
Through my training and my practice of plastic surgery, I have been exposed to many surgeons from all around the world. Most are very good, but some are truly amazing, achieving masterpieces that are far superior to the normal “state of the art”. What is the secret that sets these superstars apart? They have one thing in common: a single-minded focus on a single, specific area, specializing on this within the specialty of plastic surgery. Through years of careful study and practice, doing the same thing every day but with small changes, they have mastered and perfected their small area of interest (or obsession!). Thus, they have become “SUPERSPECIALISTS” – both narrower and deeper in focus that the rest of the surgeons.
Like my colleagues, I wanted to emulate these leaders, and so I read their books and articles, attended their courses and lectures, and pestered them with questions every chance I got. They are dedicated teachers, and try very hard to share their knowledge, but their results are difficult to duplicate. As is true in other motor skills, there is no substitute for experience, and all of their teaching could only transmit a small fraction of what they have learned. As one expert told me, he “has made every mistake possible” as a necessary part of the route to his current level of excellence.
The Problem Identified
I realized that our current system of learning was limited: it is like trying to learn to play golf by reading about it, or by asking Tiger Woods how he does it. Although useful for getting the basics, it is a very inefficient way to improve. We need to be coached, because experience is hard to transmit by books. What we really need is for the expert to coach us, allowing us to benefit directly from their experience on every case that we do. That way, we will avoid repeating the “seductive” mistake of doing something that seems like it should work, but doesn’t.
Although having an expert guide every surgeon for every surgery would be wonderful, it was not practical until now. The experts are scattered around the world, and of course are very busy taking care of their own patients, writing books, doing research, and teaching. In order for this to work, the experts would have to be able to review cases very quickly and transmit their experience in just a few minutes. If this was possible, then thousands of patients could benefit directly from their expertise, instead of just a few a day.
This then, was the engineering challenge that I have been working on for the past 15 years. How could we share the experts’ experience with the most patients possible? Using the Internet, I came up with a solution in 2000, which showed that it was possible although not yet practical. To try to make it more practical, I modified a radiology system to allow the experts to review cases much as a radiologist reviews X-rays. This was much more efficient and an expert could review the case quickly, but it took too long to for the doctors to learn the system. Finally, I asked my friends from the award winning Amalga design team for help, and they came up with our current elegant software solution. It is easy-to-use, quick, powerful, secure, and elegant. Everything one could ask for in a software system.
Using our system, your doctor at Athena Clinics can work with you to formulate a plan, and have it looked over by an experienced expert. This will assure that the surgical plan is optimized, and the expert will help avoid unpublished pitfalls that could arise in your individual case. Communication from doctor to expert is at a very high level, and very efficient. Following your procedure, the expert will review the case again to see if there are any aftercare measures that need to be done to achieve the optimal results.
Thus, we are using the Internet to expand the time-honored technique of surgical mentoring, and using it to give you the best care possible.