The development of new surgical procedures is vital to progress in healthcare but it can be harmful to patients.
The harm can occur in ways that are difficult to identify and manage appropriately as they often fall into grey areas between ordinary practice and surgical research.
Surgeons have a tradition of trying new techniques or devices to help their patients. Yet we know that while innovations may benefit patients, they can also lead to serious patient harm.
Our research involves:
- philosophical analysis to define and identify surgical innovation
- ethical analysis of the benefit and harms of innovation and how best to manage these
- legal scholarship on the regulation of surgeons, innovative devices and procedures
- qualitative research with practitioners to identify barriers to (and support for) innovation
- stakeholder consultation to review the tools that we develop.
One of the chief challenges in managing surgical innovation is that it is difficult to identify exactly when innovation occurs.
For landmark procedures such as the first heart transplant, it is clear when innovation occurs. But there are other ways in which surgery may be new – for example, when an experienced surgeon uses new equipment for the first time, when a procedure is done for the first time in a particular hospital, or when an established procedure is performed on a different patient group.
All of these examples raise questions of risk, evidence and patient safety, but may not be recognised as innovation and therefore warranting extra support. This research will support safer surgery in Australia.