Hospital for Special Surgery HSS

Timothy Wright, Hospital for Special Surgery HSS

Timothy Wright

Adding Engineering
Value to Patient Care

Editors’ Note

Dr. Timothy Wright joined the Hospital for Special Surgery in 1976 and the Cornell University Medical College in 1978. He is a recipient of honors for excellence in research from the Hip Society and the Knee Society, and earned a Kappa Delta Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. A past Whitaker Fellow and a past recipient of a Research Career Development Award from NIH, Wright served as President of the Orthopaedic Research Society in 1992. He is a former Editor of the Journal of Orthopaedic Research and a former consulting editor for research of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Wright also received a Director’s Special Citation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What makes HSS such a special place to work?

There are very few institutions worldwide, and certainly in the U.S., that have decided it’s important to embed a group of engineers into the medical setting.

Having engineers who can interact with surgeons on a daily basis ensures that surgeons’ ideas get engineering value added to them quickly. It becomes a collaborative effort that at its best transforms clinical practice.

For example, we developed the first modern total knee replacement at HSS, and we have continued to improve that design in an evolutionary way based on rational decisions stemming from both engineering and orthopedic principles.

We’re also a teaching hospital, so the opportunity for orthopedic residents or fellows to interact daily in the research that we do also makes for a unique training setting.

We include engineering and mechanical principles because orthopedic surgeons are working with an engineering structure (the musculoskeletal system) every day.

How does the collaboration between physicians and engineers drive innovation?

Surgeons know that the best way to have their ideas come to fruition is to understand the underlying principles. Generally, those who gravitate toward orthopedic surgery have a mechanical bent to them, so they’re eager to learn from engineers.

More often than not, it’s the orthopedic surgeons who drives the innovation, and that’s how it should be. Our job is to add engineering value to patient care. The engineers often help frame the intellectual property that makes the surgeons’ ideas a bit better.

How critical is it to have an institution that puts innovation at the forefront?

It’s part of our culture, and it’s why people look at us as they do – they know that what is going on here is at the forefront of the orthopaedic community. We have to continue in that tradition.

It’s not only about translating innovative ideas into clinical practice quickly, but doing it in a way that allows surgeons around the world to be better by learning that new technique, using that new device, or understanding that new clinical pathway based on what we discovered here.

Is there a broad understanding among engineers and engineering students of the opportunities that exist in this field?

Engineers love to solve problems, and to be given the opportunity to solve a problem that has a direct impact on patient care is very attractive. This is true even for those who come from a more traditional engineering background where they have never had to think about issues like getting from the bedside to the biomechanics lab back to the bedside as quickly as possible.•