In an outstanding editorial in the current issue of the Journal of Urology (https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.juro.2013.05.031) my friend and colleague Jay Smith (who has accompanied us when we climbed Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and on cycle challenges in Malawi and Madagascar to raise funds for The Urology Foundation) asks the important question as to who decides when a surgeon has the requisite skills and experience to subject a patient to an operative procedure? He points out that a patient entrusting his or her quality of life, and indeed very survival, to a surgeon creates an ethical bond that has few parallels in society. Certification by the Royal College of Surgeons, American Board of Urology, or equivalent bodies elsewhere, does not imply competence in the operating theatre, or for a particular surgical procedure.
The question becomes even more pertinent in an era when new technologies such as the da Vinci surgical robot are becoming increasingly available and many clinicians, like Jay and myself, have had to become proficient robotic surgeons in the midst of their careers. Having the necessary case numbers for training, as well as expert help and mentoring in the early stages, has not always been easy. Becoming safely proficient with the robot has been compared to learning to fly a helicopter, where 40 hours mentored flying time is considered a minimum requirement.
Financial incentives, for both industry and the surgeon, and motives related to pride and practise promotion, can certainly conspire to cloud a clinician’s judgement. In the end it has to be the individual surgeon’s conscience that should be the prime determinant of whether he or she is qualified to perform any given operation. The patient trusts that the surgeon is not unduly influenced to attempt to perform a procedure beyond his or her competence. That is a truly essential covenant, as no regulatory body or oversight committee can truly know how qualified an individual surgeon may be for a particular procedure.
Patient-related outcome measurements (PROMS) and the publication of the results of individual surgeons seem set to play an important role in the future.
While some of us may view this negatively, from a patient safety viewpoint is it almost certainly the way ahead.
Roger Kirby, BJUI Associate Editor, The Prostate Centre, London