Leaders in Medical Education

Dr Andre Chow, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Touch Surgery

Henry Wallace
Published on Mar 3, 2016. Updated on Invalid date.

By Henry Wallace

Touch Surgery brings the operating room to your pocket. It is an app that guides you through complex operations by breaking them down into their component steps, allowing students and doctors alike to hone their skills. Check it out here: https://www.touchsurgery.com

Andre cofounded Touch Surgery whilst finishing his PhD in stem cell research and training as a General Surgeon. He is an experienced web coder, UX designer, and all-round hacker. When not in the lab being super busy with his hand involved in every aspect of the product, Andre spends his spare time playing a myriad of sports and trying to push his French bulldog off the sofa.

Can you share your background on how you got to where you are right now?
Sure - I graduated from Imperial College School of Medicine in London in 2004. I trained as a general surgeon, spending most of my time in various hospitals in and around the North West London area. In around 2010 I took a few years out to complete a PhD in Stem Cells and Biotechnology.

My time in surgical training allowed me to experience first hand the great things about surgery, but also many of the real frustrations. This led me to co-founding Touch Surgery.

How did you come up with the idea for Touch Surgery? What was your motivation?
I started working on Touch Surgery about 4 to 5 years ago. We experienced first hand many of the problems affecting surgical training - especially in regard to gaining sufficient operative experience. Not many people know this, but surgeons learn how to operate by practicing on live patients! For example, the first time I learned how to remove an appendix was on a 12-year-old boy. I remember it vividly - being handed the scalpel and told to start cutting. Up to that point I had never been formally taught or assessed on how to perform the procedure - yet there I was operating on a real live patient. This is not an isolated case - it happens every day in thousands of hospitals around the globe.

Jean and I felt that surely there must be a better way to train - and then started to develop Touch Surgery.

Where would you like to see Touch Surgery in the next year? Five years?
We do a huge amount of R&D in the Touch Surgery Lab behind the scenes. From a training point of view, we have products utilizing virtual reality and augmented reality platforms, real-time 3D games engines, and even some prototypes that could allow us to help surgeons inside the OR, not just outside. We have built technology that we believe can apply within other areas of medicine, including diagnostics and automated surgical care.

Of course like any R&D program, not all of these ideas and products will see the light of day. All of our projects will have to go through the same rigorous process of validating their usefulness, and demonstrating that they can help us achieve our mission of empowering and connecting the global surgical community.

What is your top study tip?
Time management is the key. Prioritise, execute and don’t procrastinate. There are lots of tools online that help you organize your study habits. Make lots of notes to yourself and get in the habit of checking each day what's new and how you can fit it in your schedule. A/B test your habits- Some people work better at night, some in the morning. Try doing certain tasks at night then try them in the morning. You will see what works best for you and adapt your schedule around that. Your body has a natural rhythm so don’t fight it.

Do you have any final thoughts regarding the medical profession as a whole?
Surgery has changed a huge amount in recent decades, driven by improvements in surgical technology. There are now even more procedures with an increasing level of complexity that surgeons need to be ready for. As a quick example let's look at inguinal hernia repair. When I started med school it was common for people to perform a suture repair. By the time I started training, everyone was learning a Lichtenstein mesh repair, using a variety of different types of mesh, each with their own benefits. By the end of my time in training I was learning 2 different types of laparoscopic repair, utilising a completely different technical and cognitive skill set. In the future we will have single incision laparoscopy, NOTES (natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery), and even robotic surgical procedures for this one condition.

All of these advances are, of course, great for patients - they now have even more choice than ever before. But on the flip side, it means that to stay up to date with practice, surgeons will depend even more upon continuous training. Unfortunately, at the moment training is the area where surgery is suffering, with surgeons being restricted in regard to the amount of operative experience they can get before qualifying as a specialist. This imbalance represents I believe the greatest challenge that surgery faces today, and something that must be overcome if we ever hope to address the 5 billion people on the planet that don’t have access to safe surgical care.