Could digital methods be used to improve shared learning in surgical innovation?

  • 4 October 2022

Researchers working within the Surgical Innovation theme at the Bristol BRC are carrying out a scoping review into how state-of-the-art digital methods are used to share learning and improve transparency in their field. During the review they will assess currently available research on this topic. They will explore how this could be used to improve strategies for shared learning, when new surgical procedures and devices are introduced into practice.

Surgical innovation is important for patients because it can lead to better outcomes for them. It is also important because it can advance surgical practice in general. When surgeons start using a new procedure or device, they tweak and change things slightly to find the best way to perform the surgery.

Currently, surgeons tend to do this independently. This means that they often share information about how they refine the new surgical procedure or device with only their immediate team. Even though it is these small, incremental changes that are often very important for other surgeons who are also learning how to perform the new procedure or use the new device.

Information about surgical innovation is traditionally shared by surgeons at medical conferences or meetings, or through professional development courses and peer-reviewed publications. Sharing information in this way means not everyone can access it.

Information sharing also usually happens at a relatively late stage when the new procedure or device is already being widely used in practice. This also misses opportunities to instantly share information about those incremental changes and learning points that surgeons make along the road of surgical innovation.

Sharing information and learning quickly is important because some changes can be harmful, and some can improve patient safely. Using digital methods to share information can reach a lot more people a lot quicker. For example, surgeons can and recently have used social media or virtual reality to exchange knowledge about innovative procedures and devices. Some evidence also suggests that sharing knowledge with external stakeholders about innovation can even lead to more innovation.

During this two-year project, the research team will look at multiple sources such as electronic databases, journals and social media (amongst others) to explore how knowledge about innovative surgical procedures is shared. They aim to:

  • Summarise what type of methods are currently used to share information and learning in surgery
  • Look at the impact of these methods
  • Explore what benefits and barriers surgeons might experience whilst using these methods

The publication which explains the steps of how the study will be conducted (the study protocol) is freely available to those interested in accessing it.

Christin Hoffmann, lead author, said:

“We hope that the results of this scoping review will help inform strategies for sharing knowledge and information about novel surgical procedures and devices. We will use findings from the study to develop ideas for how we can integrate digital methods in our ongoing work in the NIHR Bristol BRC Surgical Innovation theme.”

Shelley Potter, senior author, said:

“Surgeons need to be able to communicate and share information in a more effective way to improve safety and transparency in surgical innovation.”


Shared Learning Utilizing Digital Methods in Surgery to Enhance Transparency in Surgical Innovation: Protocol for a Scoping Review

Christin Hoffmann, Matthew Kobetic, Natasha Alford, Natalie Blencowe, Jozel Ramirez, Rhiannon Macefield, Jane M Blazeby, Kerry N L Avery, Shelley Potter