Health

@TEDMED: Catching up with Catherine Mohr, robotic surgery expert

Our content partner conference, TEDMED, is happening now in California. (Look for TEDMED video fresh from stage in the coming weeks!) TED’s own Nafissa Yakubova, is reporting from the conference; she caught a few minutes with TEDTalks star Catherine Mohr, who brings us up to date on robotic surgical innovations and her very green house … and what it means to have two talks on TED.com. As she told us:

Having been on the TED stage, it’s like introductions precede you. People know about you before meeting you in a way I have not experienced before. People say, “I’ve seen your TEDTlk!” Oh, OK then, I don’t have to introduce myself! People already know answers to the first questions, so that we can move right on to the important things that we want to talk about.

What have you been doing since your first TEDTalk? What’s new?

My 2009 TEDTalk on surgery was primarily about abdominal surgery and making it better. Since then, we have been going from hair follicles to toenails, looking at all the different places in the body where we can bring robotic surgery. It is a really interesting and fun thought process, and it led to my current thinking, which is what I tried to articulate in my TEDMED talk yesterday: Places where we are looking for a gap between what we can do currently with our existing technologies and what we’d like to be able to do for the patients IF ONLY — if only we had better diagnostic tools, if only we had better therapeutics, better drugs. Putting everything into that framework allows you to really make a decision on where technology like robotics could make a real difference in patients’ lives.

You were an engineer for a while and then you went to medical school — was it a complete change? And are you looking forward to moving on and taking the next stage, and if so what is it?

I would actually not say that it was so much of a complete change, because I took my engineering knowledge with me to med school, and I applied it. One of the things I talked about in my TEDMED talk yesterday was how experts gather a lot of expertise and they get a worldview that is very, very good at filtering between what they do and what they see as irrelevant. And once you’ve build up that filter for a while, you also get very good at filtering out disruptive technologies, things that don’t currently fit the way you think treatment should happen. Thinking about that, eventually I will be stale in what I am doing. I will be too highly trained to be able to be responsive to new things that will happen. So I will need to retrain in some way. I don’t know what it will be. I still feel like I am on a steep part of a learning curve, and you know, in medicine, there is always more to learn.

What’s happening with your green house, which you gave a TED U talk about?

We moved in! We’re doing a lot of stuff in permaculture and landscape gardening, and finally had our rainwater caching system, and the greywater wetlands, so everything is up and running. We’ve been in the house for almost a year now; at a year, I am going to analyze all the data on the house for the first year, and I’ll update the blog at that point with: ‘Well, I had these assumptions on what the house was going to be like, and what is it now compared to the assumptions.’ It will be really interesting to do analysis after a year and project what the house is going to be like. Will I get the payback that I calculated in my talk?
One of the interesting things for me is, I saw all kinds of projections and analysis, but nobody ever closed the loop and actually said how much did it really save you compared to what you had estimated.

How does it feel to live in that house? :)

It’s lovely. It certainly has something to do with sustainability and the feel-good aspect of it. And it is the space we’ve created for our family and it is designed the way we like to live.