TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Jennifer Fried, CEO of ExlplORer Surgical, about new artificial intelligence tech being used in surgeries. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Karen Roby: Talk a little bit about your background and how you moved to tech, and we’ll get a little bit further into what you’re doing from there.
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Jennifer Fried: Prior to this, I was working as a healthcare investor doing later-stage venture capital and growth-equity healthcare investing. Some in healthcare technology, but also some in medical devices or bio-pharma as well. I met my co-founder Dr. Alex Langerman when he was running a research lab within the department of surgery at University of Chicago Medical Center in 2013 and I just became really engrossed in his research and his vision for building a more digital and connected OR and bringing best practices to life.
What started as a kind of three-year passion project, side hustle, research project, then eventually became something much bigger.
Karen Roby: It brought you up to ExplORer Surgical and obviously, together you all partnered to make this happen. Talk a little bit about this. It’s powered by AI, and how this remote work helps in the OR. Explain what you guys do.
Jennifer Fried: Our software brings digital best practices to life in the OR and the procedures suite. Our software has three pillars. The first is mapping out best practices step by step and role by role and displaying it visually for teams to be able to see in real time, while they’re doing procedures. We also facilitate data capture, so allowing the folks that are supporting a surgical procedure to easily capture data for mobile devices, which seems like this should be the standard, but it’s not. The third part of it is having connectivity, so allowing experts to remotely be able to go into procedure rooms or ORs anywhere in the world with the click of a button and having HIPAA-compliant audio and video that they can lend their support to the case in real time.
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Karen Roby: Jennifer, you obviously saw a need for this and the physician that you teamed up with did as well. Kind of explain what things were like before or prior to this technology and how you guys are really helping to advance medicine and advance the way things go in the OR.
Jennifer Fried: When I first met Alex, he started describing to me this problem of variability, where he said, “Half the time I show up into the OR, I’ve got my normal team that I work with and I’m doing a case that I do all the time.” Surgery is just like anything else where you have a team of people that are working together. If it’s a team of people that you work with all day every day, doing the same things over and over, things are really routinized and easy, but the moment that you have anybody new or you’re doing something new, there’s a learning curve that comes with that. What Alex described was roughly 50% of the time they would have this ideal team working together and everything would be super smooth. The other 50% of the time, you start to see workflow struggles because you might have a new tech or you might have a new rep or you’re working with a new product that you’re less comfortable with. But the problem is if that happens in surgery, there’s a patient on the table that’s impacted. If Alex, as a surgeon, looks up from his microscope and reaches out his hand and somebody doesn’t have the right instrument ready because they’re not familiar with it, you might actually have everybody sitting there waiting for five or 10 minutes while a patient is open on the table while somebody gets that ready.
I didn’t believe this when Alex first described it to me, I just said there’s no way that you’re going to see something like that happening in surgery and then he invited me to go into the OR and see it for myself, which I started doing about eight years ago. That’s when I really saw this vision for, “Hey, how can we start to take that knowledge that is living somewhere in a system, whether it’s in an IFU (instructions for use) and a booklet that has all the information, or if it’s a specific person that might be stuck elsewhere, and how can you bring that information to be there real-time in the room in a visual way so that, that lack of information doesn’t impact patient care?”
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Karen Roby: There have been plenty of industries we could point to where digital transformation has been slow, some where they’ve embraced it and moved forward at lightning speed, but healthcare, just a year ago, so many doctors’ offices didn’t even know how to use a telehealth system, so we’ve seen just incredible changes that are going on in healthcare across the board.
Jennifer Fried: Yeah, there’s a lot of inertia in healthcare, and it’s been one of the last industries to embrace technology. I think in particular, surgery and the OR are even the last within healthcare, because you’re talking about such an intensive environment for patients, there’s an incredibly high threshold to introduce anything new, which I think should be there when you’re talking about a patient, but when it comes to technology, I think there’s always been a resistance and what we’ve seen in the last year, everybody has embraced digital, everybody has embraced remote, everybody has embraced new tech, and it’s a huge inflection point. That’s really exciting.
Karen Roby: Where do you see ExplORer Surgical moving to, and what is your hope as you guys move down the road?
Jennifer Fried: I think when you start to look at how penetrated we are, this market is still in its nascency. It’s in its infancy in terms of being developed and bringing a digital workflow and remote conductivity into the OR. If I had to guess, you’re seeing remote connectivity used in probably less than a 1% of surgical procedures broadly. I expect that number to just continue to rise, and you’re going to see more and more people embracing this and using this on a day-to-day basis. That’s what I’m most excited about, people now see that COVID-19 was not just a two-month period of time where people slapped a Band-Aid onto it and said, “Let’s try something new.” It’s really forced people to say, “Let’s change the way that we do things. Let’s bring connectivity in, let’s bring digital tools in, and really change the way that we do our day-to-day.”