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Project Silica Stores Surgical Robot Data On ‘Glass Platter’

Medicine has a data problem. As we have discussed before, healthcare technology’s toughest pill to swallow is the issue of data ingestion and the need to get patient records (and surrounding external related data where needed) all brought into the pipe that will form the electronic patient records and data-driven systems that we will depend upon in years to come.

Nowhere has this been more personally felt (for some) than in the rollout of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) vaccine. In the UK, some patients’ local healthcare provider records were left dormant if they had not visited their General Practitioner (GP) in a while. This meant that when the vaccine call came, their names were not automatically connected to the new register used to summon people for what the British like to call “jabs”.

Spoiler alert: This actually happened and this story references the above instance from first-hand personal experience… but, thankfully, Britain’s widely lauded NHS rectified the system quickly and proved to be fully connected thereafter.

Versius surgical robot

What we know then is that the process of tracking, storing, managing and preserving healthcare data is tough. CMR Surgical, the British unicorn behind the Versius surgical robot, together with Microsoft, has announced a new development that could help counter some of these issues… and it is a healthcare data technology far more expansive than any single person’s simple national healthcare number and status.

Along with Microsoft, CMR Surgical has announced an engagement with Microsoft in what is said to be a first for health data. Clinical data from Versius surgical robot procedures was stored onto a small [75x75mm] Proof of Concept (PoC) glass platter, which can be safely preserved for more than ten thousand years. The whole effort is dubbed as the ‘Project Silica’ trial by Microsoft.

“Through this trial with Microsoft, CMR has the opportunity to use ground-breaking technology to store a vast amount of clinical data safely and securely,” said Luke Hares, chief technology officer at CMR Surgical. “This is important, as collecting data across surgical practice will enable us to learn critical insights over time and realize our mission to make minimal access surgery available to everyone who could benefit.”

Hares claims that working with Microsoft is a natural fit for CMR. He says that both companies are “hugely passionate” about the potential of data and technology to shape healthcare worldwide.

Unlocking wider scope for keyhole surgery

Through the trademarked Versius Surgical Robotic System and its wider digital ecosystem (including a registry and app) CMR says it is consistently collecting and analyzing large amounts of anonymized data from its minimal access (MAS) – otherwise known as keyhole – surgeries. This data has the potential to help standardize surgery and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Project Silica is a new archive storage technology from Microsoft, created specifically for the cloud. Once data is written inside the glass it will not decay. While regular magnetic media can decay and be destroyed through a number of environmental factors such as EMP (electromagnetic pulse), water damage, heat, or abrasion, glass is not affected by EMP or water damage and is resilient to heat and abrasion. It can survive for tens of thousands of years without the data decaying.

This is what Jurgen Willis, VP of program management at Microsoft has called innovation in long-term archival storage. Long-term medical archival data is argued to improve medical record management, enabling healthcare companies to help their patients more effectively.

This is the type of storage that permits the preservation of surgery data, including procedural videos and critical telemetric data. Over the long term (for example a surgeon’s entire career), this can be harnessed for future training and clinical study.

A shot in the arm for data science

If we can beat the healthcare data challenge, then we can (arguably) beat future pandemics more effectively and perform ever-more complex automated healthcare provision inside the operating theater and outside in general practice. Our healthcare heroes have done so many wonderful things for us all, perhaps its time that data science got a shot in arm too.

What do you think?

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