Research spotlight: Professor Wendy Rogers

12 November 2015

What is innovative surgery? What are the benefits and harms of surgical innovation?

Trying new surgery techniques or devices can benefit patients but it raises questions of risk, evidence, and patient safety. Often these harms are difficult to identify and manage appropriately as they fall into grey areas between ordinary practice and surgical research.

Professor Wendy Rogers and her research team is on a mission to make surgery safer for patients through philosophical and ethical analysis of innovative surgery. The team developed a checklist tool to identify when surgical innovation occurs and when extra support is needed to make the surgical procedure safer for patients.

Professor Rogers’ research received the Excellence in Research (Resilient Societies) award at the Macquarie University 2015 Research Excellence Awards. The award recognises the world-leading research with world-changing impact undertaken by Macquarie researchers across a range of disciplines which are aligned to the University’s five future-shaping research priorities: healthy people, resilient societies, prosperous economies, secure planet, and innovative technologies.

“I am very pleased to receive the award on behalf of the team I work with. It is great recognition for all of our hard work,” shares Professor Rogers.

To learn more about her research, we asked Professor Rogers a few questions:

How does your research related to the University’s research priority of “resilient societies”?

Our research relates directly to the Resilient Societies’ research theme “ethics, governance and justice.” This theme concerns cross-disciplinary investigation of “…the impact of scientific, technological and environmental change on ethical and legal norms, practices and institutions… [and] to inform and analyse public and social policy.”

The range of expertise in my research team has been key in identifying relevant issues and bringing appropriate theoretical tools to address the problems of identifying innovative surgery in a way that can make it safer for patients. In particular, the research is relevant to the research streams ‘ethics in theory and practice,’ and ‘governance, institutions and social policy.’ We started with a practical ethical problem – that of failure to recognise and therefore appropriately support innovations in surgery – and have now produced a tool for use by institutions in regulating and supporting surgeons who innovate.

Are you applying any innovative methodologies in your research?

Our team includes an interesting and unusual disciplinary mix, with expertise in philosophy, medical ethics, jurisprudence, health law, research regulation, and surgery — this in itself is an innovation. In our research we draw upon the tools of our individual disciplines (eg conceptual analysis, legal analysis, knowledge of surgery), but we are using these methods to address specific problems that do not usually concern philosophers such as when a particular operation is innovative surgery.

At what stage is the research at, and what are the future plans?

We are at the end of a three year linkage project funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) with support (including financial) from five partner organisations. One of the main outputs of the research is the development of our checklist tool for identifying planned innovative surgery. This tool is called the Macquarie Surgical Innovative Identification Tool (MSIIT). We are now working with researchers from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation to develop a pilot trial to see if the MSIIT will be useful in practice.

What benefits does your research provide to the community?

At the moment  the benefits are indirect rather than direct, in that our publications have been largely directed towards academics and surgical practitioners. However if the MSIIT is successful in practice, then our research has the potential to trigger relevant supports in order to the make innovative surgery safer for the Australian community.

About Professor Wendy Rogers

Professor Wendy Rogers is an ARC Future Fellow at the Department of Philosophy in Macquarie University. She initially trained as a general practitioner before undertaking philosophy honours and a PhD in medical ethics at Flinders University. Prior to coming to Macquarie she spent five years leading the ethics, law and professionalism teaching in the School of Medicine at Flinders. Her research interests include bioethics, public health ethics, feminist ethics, research ethics, and ethics of organ and tissue donation.

See Professor Wendy Rogers’ full profile


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