Conceptualising Surgical Innovation: An Eliminativist Proposal

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Improving surgical interventions is key to improving outcomes. Ensuring the safe and transparent translation of such improvements is essential. Evaluation and governance initiatives, including the IDEAL framework and the Macquarie Surgical Innovation Identification Tool have begun to address this. Yet without a definition of innovation that allows non-surgeons to identify when it is occurring, these initiatives are of limited value. A definition seems elusive, so we undertook a conceptual study of surgical innovation. This indicated common elements in discussions of (surgical) innovation, that we categorised alliteratively under the headings of “purpose” (about drivers of innovation), “place” (about contexts of innovation), “process” (about differentiating innovation), “product” (about tangible and intangible results of innovation) and “person” (about personal factors and viewpoint). These elements are used in varying – sometimes contradictory – ways in different discussions. Highlighting these elements of surgical innovation may be useful in clarifying what should be reported in registries of innovation. However our wider conclusion was that the term “innovation” carries too much conceptual baggage to inform normative inquiry about surgical practice. Instead, we propose elimination of the term “innovation” from surgical ethics and the wider surgical discourse. In our view researchers, philosophers and policy-makers should consider what it is about surgical activity that needs attention and develop robust definitions to identify these areas: for our own focus on transparency and safety, this means finding criteria that can objectively identify certain risk profiles during the development of surgery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2019

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Surgical Research


  • Conceptualisation
  • Ethics
  • Governance
  • IDEAL framework
  • Research
  • Surgical innovation


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