Claudette Lajam, MD: Managing Technology, Communication in Surgery


Telehealth and technology have broadened the capabilities of surgeons.

Orthopedic surgery capability looks far different now from when Claudette Lajam, MD, first came into the field. Now, the orthopedic surgeon with NYU Langone is looking forward to how telehealth and technology can expand it further in the time of her career.

In an interview with MD Magazine®, Lajam explained how clinical technology advances can simplify orthopedic care. She also explained how some surgeon practices could never be replaced by a machine, and reiterated a fact proven again and again in the era of booming technology: a tool is only as good as its user.

MD Mag: How will advancing technology influence orthopedic surgery?

Lajam: Technology is wonderful—we all love it, it's sexy, people like to look at it, you can put it up on your website and say, “Look what I do.” But there's a lot more to it than just turning on a machine and letting it do your work for you.

We, as surgeons, have a responsibility to actively learn how to use these new tools and be very responsible about how we use them. Something like a robot is great, because that robot can help you avoid errors and help you use your judgment better when you're doing an operation. But that robot can't do the surgery for you. That robot doesn't have the kind of feedback that a surgeon has. And it also doesn't see the patient postoperatively and understand, well what you do in here is going to turn into something else a year from now.

So, we have a responsibility to learn how to use technologies like robotics, navigation, and now virtual reality is coming more into play with regard to surgery. And we can talk about that a little later. But if you learn how to use these things, and you use them responsibly, and you keep in mind that your skills as a surgeon are the thing that the patient is coming to you for—and not because you use fancy tools and tricks—that's the most important thing.

How do surgeons have to manage relationships with their patients?

In the era of everything being virtual, I think the generations coming up are used to talking to people over some sort of technology rather than in person. And for certain things, that's fine. You can do a cardiogram, you can have a look at somebody on a screen. But with what we do, we need our hands on someone to check joints.

We are in the business of mobility. So we need to check mobility, we need to check stability, we need to check alignment. We need to be able to put our hands on someone, as a surgeon, to really evaluate the joints that we are working on. It's very hard to do that with current technology. Maybe in the future, we will have technology that allows us to put our hands on someone even though we're a hundred miles away from them. That's emerging technology, and I think that's very exciting.

Maybe in my lifetime, I'll be able to wake up and put on my virtual reality suit and examine someone miles away, or even operate on someone miles away. And it's very exciting and interesting—that that may in fact occur in my lifetime.

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