It all started one day in 1994, in an operating room in the New York hospital where Atul Gupta studied medicine. He would eventually become a surgeon, he was the youngest in his class because he was able to skip two years of college. Becoming a cardiac surgeon had always been his plan, but what he saw in that operating room radically changed the course of his career.
The patient on the operating table was undergoing a new type of treatment. His liver was being operated on, with some of its blood vessels being re-connected artificially. It was a procedure that normally required major surgical intervention. However, on this patient it was being done differently. He was being operated on via a thin wire that entered through his neck. There was no question of cutting him open. A stent to support the re-connection was slipped over the wire, somewhat like a spaghetti string, and pushed forward until it reached the correct point in the patient’s liver.
"I thought to myself: this is the future of healthcare. This is the way it has to go," says Atul at the Philips Innovation Center in Best, The Netherlands, where he has just given a presentation on minimally-invasive therapy – the clinical name for this type of intervention. "No longer an invasive procedure that it sometimes takes weeks for the patient to recover from, but a procedure performed from outside. To me it's still amazing. "
25 years have passed since that day in New York. For two decades, Atul worked as an interventional radiologist in Philadelphia, where he saw the technique of minimally-invasive therapy continue to improve. In addition, of course, to all the other technical changes that made his work as a clinician easier. "I was trained at a time when you viewed X-rays on a light box. You can hardly imagine that now, with all the possibilities that computer imaging offers. And when I started as a clinician, I recorded my diagnoses on a voice recorder, and then it was transcribed by a typist. The data now appears directly in the patient’s electronic medical record. So huge progress."
But the biggest change for Atul is still the level of technological innovation in the field of image-guided therapy. "You can place more and more at the tip of that string – a laser, sensors, ultrasound equipment, a balloon or a small gripping arm. In short, everything I need for diagnosis or treatment. On my screens, I can now follow things much more accurately than I would ever have seen it with the naked eye."
The result: the patient is treated faster and better. "He or she sometimes leaves the hospital the same day, with a bandage on a small wound instead of a huge scar from surgery. That’s a whole new ballgame compared to having to stay in hospital for days and rehabilitating for weeks, not to mention the costs for society."