The Henry Ford of ophthalmology
High-volume operations can be found in some surprising places – even surgery. Not all surgery conforms to our preconceptions of the individual ‘super-craftsperson’, aided by his or her back-up team, performing the whole operation from first incision to final stitch. Many surgical procedures are, in fact, fairly routine. There can be few examples, however, of surgery being made quite as routine as in the Russian clinics of eye surgeon, Svyatoslav Fyodorov.
He has been called the ‘Henry Ford of ophthalmology’, and his methods are indeed closer to the automobile assembly plant than the conventional operating theatre. The surgical procedure in which he specializes is a revolutionary treatment for myopia (short-sightedness) called radial keratotomy. In the treatment the curvature of the cornea is corrected surgically – still a controversial procedure among some in the profession, but very successful for Fyodorov. From his Moscow headquarters he controls nine clinics throughout Russia.
The source of his fame is not the treatment as such – other eye surgeons around the world perform similar procedures – but the way he organizes the business of the surgery itself. Eight patients lie on moving tables arranged like the spokes of a wheel around its central axis, with only their eyes uncovered. Six surgeons, each with his or her ‘station’, are positioned around the rim of the wheel so that they can access the patients’ eyes. After the surgeons have completed their own particular portion of the whole procedure, the wheel indexes round to take patients to the next stage of their treatment. The surgeons check to make sure that the previous stage of the operation was performed correctly and then go on to perform their own task. Each surgeon’s activity is monitored on TV screens overhead and the surgeons talk to each other through miniature microphones and headsets.
The result of this mass production approach to surgery...