Access to healthcare has always been a global problem, with those in more rural areas suffering the most. The world simply does not have enough clinically trained and specialized physicians concentrated in the areas that need them the most, leading to significant disparities in health outcomes.
Lack of access to surgery is one part of this larger problem. Many patients often have to travel hours before they can get to a healthcare center that offers the specialist surgeon they need, especially with regards to more complex medical conditions. This often leads to a prohibitive healthcare journey for patients, resulting in a poorer quality of life.
This is what companies such as Proximie are trying to solve. Proximie is a technology company “that that allows clinicians to virtually ‘scrub in’ to any operating room or cath lab from anywhere in the world. By empowering clinicians to share their skills in real-time, we can reduce variation in care and ensure every patient receives the best healthcare every single time.”
In its latest announcement last week, the company reported that it has raised $80 million dollars in Series C funding, led by firms such as Advent Life Sciences and more. The press release discusses how Proximie supported over 13,000 surgeries last year, and has now expanded its reach to nearly 100 countries. Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, CEO and founder of the company, states: “Our vision is to democratize surgery through better data by connecting every OR and Cath Lab in the world. We began this journey enabling surgeons to virtually join any OR. Now, we’re using this capability to digitize the operating room, bringing patients the collective expertise of the best surgeons in the world – where data collected and shared on Proximie can help them receive life-saving care, no matter where they live.”
While Proximie is clearly making waves, it is certainly not the only technology company that is navigating this arena. Another prominent player that has already established its name in the space is Microsoft’s Hololens platform. This platform aims to provide a similar solution: “Empower teams to work securely and enhance patient treatment reducing time-to-care. With HoloLens 2, health professionals can connect with remote experts, and call up patient data and go beyond x-rays to consult MRI images in 3D at the point of care.” The platform makes it especially easy to “Collaborate remotely in real time to receive advice from expert colleagues and access medical notes and patient X-rays instantly at the point of care.”
In terms of actually performing surgery remotely, the technology is still a work in progress. One of the most profound efforts in augmented and virtual reality interaction is Meta’s work with Reality Labs and “touching” the virtual world: “To enable this experience and bring touch to the metaverse, the team is developing haptic gloves: comfortable and customizable gloves that can reproduce a range of sensations in virtual worlds, including texture, pressure and vibration. While we’re still in the early stages of this research, the goal is to one day pair the gloves with your VR headset for an immersive experience like playing in a concert or poker game in the metaverse, and eventually they’d work with your AR glasses.” Sensations such as touch, feel, and pressure are crucially important in a surgical or clinical procedure. Without a doubt, there is a significant amount of work left to be done in this space to make virtual surgery a reality—however, the concept is promising.
Ultimately, patient safety, privacy, and security will have to be maintained at the highest standards when dealing with any type of remote healthcare solutions. However, if these aspects, in addition to the actual efficacy of the technology are achieved, it may indeed change the way surgery is envisioned in decades to come.
Surgeons wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets.