Doctor: Virtual Reality Training Leads to Big Performance Boost for Surgeons

Dr. Justin Barad sees exciting new procedures and technologies emerge in health care ever year. The problem? There are so many that it’s challenging for surgeons to learn and practice all the necessary skills and ensure patients can benefit from this progress. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Barad, CEO of Osso VR, spoke about his company’s virtual reality surgical and medical training platform, which, he said, leads surgeons to an “intraoperative performance boost of over 230%.”

Barad originally wanted to be a game developer, but a personal family health incident sent him in another direction. During studies that eventually led him to become an orthopedist, Barad said he identified the problem he wanted to solve, and tapped into his medical studies and programming skills to lead the development of the Osso VR technology. Apart from an improvement in patient outcomes, Barad hopes to increase the adoption of higher-value medical technology and set a precedent for future unified and standardized medical training around the world. In this interview, Barad delved into scaling up his business, the evolution of a century-plus-old training process, his company’s day-to-day work structure, and more.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Justin Barad (CEO, Osso VR)

Saikat Chaudhuri: How did you actually come to think about applying gaming ideas to medicine? I know you always had a passion for it and then you were pushed into medicine for personal reasons, and then when did you come up with the idea? When did it strike you, “You know what? Let me combine my passions.” Or is this something that you always wanted to do when you couldn’t become a game developer?

Justin Barad: When I was in high school, this family health incident was a real wake-up call for me and it made me realize I wanted to have a real impact in a positive way, especially on people with health conditions, and I wanted to do that with technology. And so, I did bioengineering in college and as I was nearing graduation, it wasn’t clear to me how to go about creating or inventing technology. I felt a little lost and confused.

Chaudhuri: Even at Berkeley, right?

Barad: Yes. Surprise, surprise. And so, Dr. Lin, who’s my mentor and a gastroenterologist, he told me — I couldn’t believe how genius it was now in retrospect — but at the time, he just said very simply, “If you want to invent something, you need to know what the problem is first.” He thought the best way to understand problems in medicine was to be a physician. I didn’t really want to go through all the additional schooling, but I couldn’t argue with that logic if that’s really what I wanted to do.

So, I went to med school and did residency with the goal of identifying big problems. Throughout my training, as I was being asked to scrub out and urgently Google what to do or find YouTube videos, or seeing things go wrong, I realized that this was a much bigger problem than people realize. Right around that same time, I am still very involved in gaming because I still felt passionate about it and I got involved with virtual reality very early. Then, just a light bulb went off in my head, “Oh, this seems like an incredible solution to the problem I’m experiencing every day that I think is one of the biggest problems in health care today. It seems like it’s worth pursuing.” I have a programming background, so I was able to build a proof of concept and it just snowballed from there.

“Throughout my training, as I was being asked to scrub out and urgently Google what to do or find YouTube videos … I realized that this was a much bigger problem than people realize.” – Justin Barad

Chaudhuri: That’s where the Berkeley part helped. Now, you mentioned, Justin, that you’ve already expanded globally to a number of different areas. What I wanted to ask you is, as you now scale, what are some of the challenges that you’re facing and how are you thinking about them?

Barad: We have quite a few challenges. I think the main one is that there’s a vast number of surgeries that need to be simulated. Who’s going to build all that content and all the different variations? Right now, we’re doing it all ourselves, but when we’re scaling to the point where we’re simulating thousands of surgeries, is that very feasible? Now, what we’re in the process of doing is building a toolset that will allow people to initially modify the content that we have to suit their needs. Eventually, they can create their own surgical training content that they can then publish on their platform. Perhaps there are procedures that we don’t do here in the U.S. or aren’t even thinking of that other people may see a big need for.

Another issue is the sheer lack of standardization when it comes to how people do surgery. We encountered this. We created a hip pinning module for the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America, which I was really excited about as a pediatric orthopedist. But the response was really interesting because a lot of people responded negatively to it. They thought it was very realistic, but what they said was, “This isn’t how I do this procedure.” And so, we were like, “Oh, this is going to be a real big issue because there’s a lot of variations when it comes to how people do certain procedures.” But an area where there’s not a lot of variation, where there is a good standardization, is when it comes how to use medical devices, implants, and technologies.

“Eventually, they can create their own surgical training content that they can then publish on their platform.” – Justin Barad

When we were deciding how to scale, we told ourselves, “If we focus on this area where we don’t have to create a hundred different versions of a procedure, it’s really just one that’s been approved by the FDA, then we can scale much more effectively and then address the lack of standardization down the line.” But what we hope is that if every single surgeon, surgical team, medical team member, or mid-level provider used our platform, then we can help with this lack of standardization because people will be learning from a common source. That’s one of the main reasons the World Health Organization has identified as one of the risks of modern medical technology is a lack of standardization because everyone is doing it their own way, you can’t really measure whether or not a technology is beneficial or not.

Chaudhuri: You touched upon so many facets which resonate with me. One part is, obviously there are business challenges and process challenges of expanding the scale, but also the scope of what you do. Another piece is the human element in terms of inertia because we’ve done things in a certain way. And if you look at it, especially in something like medicine, we’ve considered the doctor being the expert and knowing, especially the more senior or the more well-known you are. In some sense, this goes against the grain of standardization. Yet at the same time, when it comes to regulatory sides, you’ve got the FDA and other bodies, which have to approve these things. They have to agree on certain protocols perhaps in order to move things forward. And it’s not easy to navigate these landscapes.

Barad: I think you highlighted the crux of the challenge of innovating within health care and why you often see people who don’t have a healthcare background come in and really underestimate the vast complexity of the stakeholder and regulatory issues that you just highlighted. I think that was just a great concise summary.

About Our Guest

Justin Barad is a board-eligible orthopedic surgeon with a bioengineering degree from UC Berkeley, and an MD from UCLA, where he graduated first in his class. He completed his residency at UCLA and his fellowship in pediatric orthopedics at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital.

During his residency, Barad identified what could be one of the most pressing medical challenges of this century: how we are training our surgeons. With a strong interest in gaming and a first-hand understanding of the challenges facing residents and experienced doctors, he co-founded Osso VR with a mission to improve patient safety and democratize access to modern surgical techniques. Barad wrote about medical technology as an editor at Medgadget for over a decade. He has spoken at multiple conferences including TEDMED, CES, Exponential Medicine, and Health 2.0. He also currently serves as a member of the Consumer Technology Association’s Health and Technology Fitness Division Board of Directors. Find more on Twitter @jbhungry.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.