Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo thinks hope has a huge role to play in modern medicine

Charlie Teo talking at TedX Sydney.

Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo has thrown away many of the norms of medicine and rests on hope to make many of his treatment decisions. It’s a way of working which has landed him with the title of “cowboy” on a number of occasions.

He’s had hospitals restrict his privileges and has even been asked by the boss of a governing body to “stop offering secondary opinions that are contrary to the first.”

Speaking at TedX in Sydney today, Teo explained conventional medicine and treatments are based on – among other things – reviewing evidence and consulting colleagues to gain approval and consensus.

Charlie Teo.

But Teo said this approach doesn’t take into account hope and the human element – the patient – as much as it should.

“The trouble is we’re not taught to offer medical treatments based on taking a chance,” he said.

“Hope is the essential ingredient in the essence of life.

“Our job is to respect and nurture that hope. False hope – there’s no such thing.”

Discussing complex brain surgery, Teo explained when a doctor says a tumour is “inoperable” what the physician usually means is “in my opinion the risk of surgery outweighs the benefits”. Teo said “any tumour can be taken out” and he makes his surgery decisions not only on a medical basis but also on hope and patient autonomy — where he respects a patient’s wishes.

“I’ve learned from my patients, the fragility of life,” he said.

“When you’re staring down the barrel of death, suddenly your grip on life becomes a whole lot tighter.”

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