COVID-19 has caused a surge in telemedicine, increasing access to health care without having to physically visit a doctor. In similar ways, it is changing things in the operating room, where advanced technology platforms enable surgeons and specialists to observe or weigh in on surgeries and allow manufacturer reps to assist in procedures using new devices.

“It’s collaboration at the touch of a button,” said Daniel Hawkins, found and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Avail Medsystems Inc., which develops telemedicine software for the procedure room.

Hawkins was one of three med-tech executives who spoke at recent Wells Fargo webinar on the future of remote surgery.

Avail’s 24/7 on-demand platform and online portal allow individuals to schedule their availability to participate in a procedure anywhere in the world – though the company is currently focusing on the U.S. “It’s an instantaneous management process,” Hawkins said, adding that Avail controls the hardware and the software to ensure an optimal user experience.

Increasing collaboration

Training, technique transfer, new product introductions, proctoring and procedure support all require collaboration, and that comes at a hefty cost. Hawkins estimated about 5% of the amount of collaboration that should occur does due to the operational logistics and hard dollar cost of physically being in the OR.

“It’s a little-known fact, but something on the order of a hundred-plus thousand field representatives – clinical and sales – from industry spend 50%-60% of their time in a logistics surrounding their obligation to support cases in the OR,” he said. “For a staff that is as valuable as they are to the medical device industry and as valuable as they are to the clinical community, it’s an extraordinary underutilization or, I’ll say, waste of resources.”

Avail’s customer base includes physicians, key opinion leaders, physician practices and large health systems. Industry involvement ranges from clinical trials to product launch. Users access the software-as-service (SaaS) platform via a download from the app store.

Innovation in medical care is happening around the globe, and being able to globalize and digitize the operating room is key to establishing surgical excellence, said Nadine Hachach-Haram, founder and CEO of London-based Proximie Ltd. The technical platform allows clinicians to virtually scrub in to any OR catheter lab anywhere in the world.

“What’s really key here is impact: How do we drive and deliver the ability adopt that change, that paradigm change, across the world?” Haram said.

The company has seen an uptick in adoption since the pandemic began, with platforms in over than 300 hospitals – more than in the U.S. “We’ve been in over 40 countries, delivered over 10,000 events, close to a thousand a month now, and worked with over 40 medical device companies to scale that paradigm change in surgery,” Haram said.

COVID has also provided tailwinds for Avail, which has raised more than $115 million, tripled its employees and saw a 30-fold increase in console placements in the last 12 months.

Can the pace continue in a post-COVID world, moderator and Wells Fargo analyst Larry Biegelsen asked the panel?

“What happened in early 2020 and the impact of COVID is really just putting a spotlight on a category that had been emerging, highlighting a very significant gap that needed to be filled,” Hawkins said.

Haram echoed that view. “Being able to deliver at scale was catalyzed fundamentally by that acceleration, the realization that this has to be the way forward,” she said. “We’ve also seen an acceleration impact. That force multiplier effect of the number of patients’ lives that we can touch is remarkable.”

Establishing best practices

While Avail and Proximie are focused on facilitating remote participation in procedures, Chicago-based Explorer Surgical Corp.’s goal is to make sure best practices are available digitally, in real time, for every surgical team member to access.

“Simply having best practices available isn’t enough. We need to capture data on procedures to drive that continuous improvement,” said Jennifer Fried, Explorer’s CEO and founder. “We’ve seen a lot of new digital tools introduced to capture data pre-op and post-op, but what actually happens in the room has always sort of remained a black spot, especially to med-tech companies who are supporting those procedures.”

Explorer’s aim is to make intraprocedural data easy to capture and analyze, so that manufacturers and providers can identify new opportunities to increase efficiencies and product effectiveness. Users customize the application to their particular use case and capture procedural data on their mobile device.

“Data collection helps identify bottlenecks in user proficiency. … allows data driven, individual feedback to be provided to each learner or trainee and provides feedback to companies … to allow them to continually improve their educational process,” Fried said.

Explorer works exclusively with med-tech companies, across a range of surgical specialties and use models. Noting that remote support cannot be thought of as an “on-off switch,” she said some hospitals may opt to have one rep in the OR and bring another in remotely.

Like Hawkins and Haram, Fried sees COVID providing momentum for a post-pandemic world.

“What we saw happen in 2020 was industry dipping their toes in the water and everybody saying I need to try this, I need to see if it works. I think what you’re going to see in 2021 is … business models really shift and companies say we want to make this the standard of care – not just for some procedures, but for every procedure.”