Where healthcare and surgical innovation are headed: key concepts and highlights from the Intuitive 360 conference

Intuitive hosted its fifth annual user’s conference, Intuitive 360, virtually on Oct. 22 and 23 featuring informative sessions on the state of healthcare, innovation amid the pandemic, and best practices to maximize robotic-assisted surgery programs.


More than 3,000 individuals logged in from 1,100-plus robotic surgery programs across the U.S. to participate in the conference, marking its largest turnout to date. The conference featured 36 executive, clinical and operational key opinion leaders sharing their stories and Intuitive executives highlighted how the company works with customers to scale minimally invasive surgery through products, learning, and services.

Michael Dowling, president and CEO of New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health and Becker's Healthcare publisher Scott Becker delivered a state-of-the-industry address on healthcare — with a strong emphasis on innovation amid the "new normal."

24-7 — the new normal

COVID-19 has changed operations at Northwell, similar to what’s happening around the world. At one point, almost all of their facilities were for COVID patients, so they had to react and adapt very quickly.

"There is a new normal today, and there will be new, new normal tomorrow," said Mr. Dowling, adding: "We do surgery now on the weekends. In fact, I’ve been an advocate for surgeries to be done seven days a week. That should be part of the new normal. We have to be operating around the clock, especially when it comes to procedures." He described the situation in New York. People are wearing masks and social distancing in many neighborhoods, and Mr. Dowling said they were preparing for a potential second wave of cases.

"While the COVID-19 medical issue will be over at some point next year, the economic implications will last for more than a decade," said Mr. Dowling, adding that healthcare organizations will need to operate differently as a result.

New ways of thinking about innovations and technology

The pandemic has placed an even sharper focus on the need for medical innovations in all areas. Mr. Becker asked Northwell’s CEO about innovations in the medical industry, how they established such an early and significant robotic surgery line, and insights about robotic-assisted surgery from Intuitive.

Mr. Becker reminded the audience that Northwell is the largest health care system in New York State, and regarded as one of the best and most innovative. How do they account for that innovation? Mr. Dowling said that innovation is a way of thinking — a culture of thinking. "You have to ask yourself the question on an ongoing basis, what if we did it differently, what should we look like a year from now, two years from now, and three years out? How do we challenge the status quo, become more inquisitive, break some of the rules? While we live in a world of compliance and regulations — the antithesis of innovation — you’ve got to break some tradition, and we try to do that at Northwell on an ongoing basis," explained Mr. Dowling.

In terms of robotic surgery, Mr. Dowling said that years ago they explored how to perform surgeries differently, reduce the volume of open surgery, use technology to improve quality, standardize more, and leverage data. In 2017, they entered into an agreement with Intuitive and launched a major initiative to enhance the role of robotic-assisted surgeries.

"We have a great relationship with Intuitive," said Mr. Dowling. "Because of the learnings we get from them and the motivation of our own people internally, we began to dramatically expand the use of robotic surgery. We were one of the first in the U.S. to be declared a network of excellence in robotic surgery." He recalled observing one of the hospital’s surgeons doing thoracic surgery with the da Vinci robotic-assisted system, saying it was "pretty extraordinary."

According to Mr. Dowling, "Robotics allows you to do surgery you would never be able to do with the open procedure, to be able to see things you can't see if you do them the old-fashioned way."

He said, "A few weeks ago I spent seven hours observing a thoracic surgery with the da Vinci-assisted system, it was pretty extraordinary. I'm sitting there, and I'm actually looking inside the person's body, watching what was being done. It would have been inconceivable to think that you could have done that if you didn't have the technology advances that exist today, just a phenomenal experience. And we are very fortunate to be working with a wonderful, wonderful company. It's been a real privilege ... and I think it has helped patients. It's a win-win for everybody."

While Mr. Dowling said that technology makes a huge difference, so too do the people. “We put together a senior leadership group to lead the effort around robotic surgery, and to work with Intuitive,” said Mr. Dowling.

During the talk, Mr. Becker asked whether the healthcare industry lagged behind on its use of technology. "Go into any hospital ICU, or any hospital room and what do you observe? Technology all over the place. We have been adapting technology for years, but I do think that we have to continue advancing and you can do that best with companies that will work with you in a collaborative, team-oriented fashion," said Mr. Dowling at the Intuitive 360 conference.

Looking to the future, Mr. Dowling said, "No matter how well we are doing with Intuitive today, we will be doing even better three years from now as we learn more things we can do together. And that’s innovation. That’s transformation. That’s moving the ball up the field."

The role of data and technology

When the publisher of Becker’s Healthcare asked about the role of data, Mr. Dowling said he often defines Northwell as an information company. He says they are putting all of the data they collect from procedures into a single repository to monitor quality and predict what might happen with patients or groups of patients — and all done in partnership with Intuitive. But he admits that healthcare has to be a combination of human factors and technology, saying, "You have to maximize the use of technology without losing the human factor in the delivery of healthcare, whether it's on the procedural or diagnostic end. It's that balance that we have to be very careful to sustain going forward."

Mr. Dowling also commented on the use of virtual care or telemedicine, indicating that COVID may have hastened its use. "We will be dramatically expanding telemedicine in the future. We’ll expand post-acute care, home care, and ambulatory surgery outside the hospitals. Many of us are doing this. This can all be dramatically expanded in the future. And that's exciting," said Mr. Dowling.

He talked about his optimism on the state of the healthcare industry too. He believes that the pandemic has given all healthcare systems an opportunity to "rebuild and rethink our organizations" moving forward and to work with companies like Intuitive to continue to innovate.

According to Mr. Dowling, "During COVID, we became unbelievably essential. The public regarded us as saving their communities. They basically clapped in front of every hospital, every night — they called us heroes. We built trust during that period. Now, we need to live up to the expectation to deliver even more innovations. That is the essence of leadership going forward."

Highlights from the Intuitive 360 breakouts and presentations

Throughout the two- day event, breakout tracks customized for executive, clinical, and operational leadership featured topics on expanding access, building belief, and coordinating care. Peer-led discussions on topics like the financial viability of robotic-assisted surgery, block time strategies, and maximizing the technology investment to gain value for patients and providers featured opinions from healthcare leaders across the country from all different types of institutions. Additional topics focused on obtaining actionable data for care team coordination, scaling best practices organization wide, and quantifying the impact of lean initiatives. Participants in these sessions also discussed their surgical service line's strategic pivots amid the pandemic.

1. Ms. Catherine Mohr, President of the Intuitive Foundation talked about the foundation’s mission to reduce the global burden of disease and suffering through philanthropy, research, and education aimed at better outcomes for patients everywhere. Ms. Mohr said she believes that a lack of access to basic surgical care is on par with other global health crisis. She said the key will be educating the next generation of surgeons.

2. Jamie Wong, MD, vice president and senior medical officer at Intuitive spoke about the company's evolution over the past two decades to transform surgery with digital technology. He touched on diagnostic technology from Intuitive, the Ion endoluminal system, and the da Vinci robotic-assisted platform and how hospitals are using these products to develop an intelligence-driven operating room.

3. A panel of Intuitive leaders outlined where the company is headed and touched on innovations including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced simulation. The panel also outlined how the Intuitive ecosystem can support health systems as they strive to meet the Quadruple Aim.

4. Throughout the virtual event, the IntegratEd interactive learning experience was open for participants to connect with the resource team at Intuitive and learn more about the company's ecosystem of services and technology. The Intuitive experts helped participants move programs forward through the maturity model.

5. One of the staples of the conference continued virtually as 36 key opinion leaders from across the country shared best practices for hot topics in 17 different peer-led breakout sessions and panel discussion. These sessions all focused on how their actions can help hospitals in their pursuit of the Quadruple Aim.


To learn more about Intuitive 360 or for additional resources on robotic-assisted surgery programs and discussions, please visit the Robotics Content Hub.

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