The Royal College of Surgeons publishes ‘Future of Surgery’ Report

Dr Liam O'Toole at the Future of Surgery convension.

Late last year, I was delighted to accept an offer from the Royal College of Surgeons to be a member of their Commission on the Future of Surgery. The commission explored the innovations that will most likely affect surgery in the next 20 years, and today (7 December 2018) I was delighted to see the commission’s findings and recommendations published in the Future of Surgery report.

The report brings together several months of evidence gathered from experts in a variety of fields, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to genomics. All agreed that the next few decades will see technology making a huge impact on how surgery is conducted.

In the near future, surgeons will work alongside robots to perform minimally invasive surgery, AI will help collect and analyse patient data at a both an individual and population level, and further into the future nanomachines could deliver drugs, while organs and tissues could be bioprinted.

Arthritis and the future

Around 17.8 million people in the UK have arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, and this figure is expected to grow in the future. The number of people with knee osteoarthritis alone is expected to double between 2010 and 2035, from 4.7 million to 8.3 million.  Between 2015 and 2035 the number of people aged 65 and over in England with arthritis will rise from 4.7 million, to 9 million - almost double.

Anyone who has experienced the pain, fatigue and isolation of arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, either first or second-hand, will be concerned with these statistics. However, I am hopeful about the impact future surgical innovations may have and what that could mean for people with arthritis.

For example, someone who develops osteoarthritis in the future may be able to have a full scan of their bones and joints, and a surgeon will have immediate access to their medical history, allowing a quicker, more informed decision to be made on treatment options. The surgeon can discuss the available treatments with the patient, and a decision on treatment will be a shared decision between patient and surgeon.

In the future people with arthritis may have the choice of stem-cell based therapies, in which stem-cells extracted from the individual are later implanted back into their joints – removing the need for joint replacement.

What this means for surgery

One of the most exciting things about the future of surgery is what it means for the people who will need it. As healthcare shifts from the prevention and prediction of disease to data analytics, genomic testing and advances in imaging techniques, less patients will have to undergo invasive surgery, and those that do can expect better outcomes, with less complications. People will have a better knowledge of their medical history, and even their medical future, which will afford them greater responsibility and input into their own treatment.

The future is not without its challenges – most notably an increasingly ageing population, but this report outlines the many exciting opportunities that technology will allow us in the future.

Certainly, there is much to be hopeful about, and we thank the Royal College of Surgeons for bringing together such an inspiring group of forward-looking experts.

In the meantime, Versus Arthritis will continue to develop breakthrough treatments, campaign relentlessly for arthritis to be seen as a priority and help push back against the limits of arthritis.