Technology has played a pivotal role in healthcare transformation. But will the confluence of digital technologies have the same disruptive impact on surgical care? What can we expect when it comes to the future of surgery?Historically, the healthcare industry has been highly regulated and is slower to adapt to new technologies. But over the past decade, a wide range of new, high-tech products have made their way into the sector. In the coming years, artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality will play significant roles in conjunction with clinical health IT applications. But will these technologies be equally effective and have the potential to generate actual savings in surgery?
Based on current research of surgical applications, we identified three key technologies that will majorly impact the future of surgery : AI and Machine Learning, Robotics, and Augmented and Virtual Reality.
Here is what we believe 2020 will hold for the modern operating room.
AI and Machine Learning
AI in surgery refers to a collection of different technologies, enabling machines to understand, act and learn, so they can perform specific surgical functions. Unlike medical devices designed to functionally support a clinician or surgeon, AI today could actually augment a surgeon’s decision-making.
By 2020, it is estimated that medical data will double every 73 days. Earlier this year, a McKinsey study revealed that by leaning on big data, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to process it, could lead to a potential $100 billion in annual savings for medicine and pharma.
AI’s potential for healthcare is reflected in a number of possible and actual surgical use cases. Not least of all would be addressing surgical variability and reducing errors, where the benefits are manifold. Technical skills vary from surgeon to surgeon, particularly when learning new or more complex procedures, and can have huge implications on patient outcomes and cost. According to a research from John Hopkin University, around 4,044 cases of surgical errors occur annually in the U.S and in over 20 years there were more than 9744 paid malpractice claims which cost over $1.3 billion. AI can be a useful tool to identify and understand surgical variability and error, helping surgeons to improve – even the best of them.
In the future, AI and Machine Learning techniques will be used simultaneously to uncover critical insights from the millions of data points collected by endoscopic and laparoscopic surgical videos, and solve a number of problems facing the surgery department, including outcomes variability. With the help of AI, surgeons will be able to understand more clearly which techniques align with better outcomes, and these insights will link to patients’ post-operative and long-term health outcomes.
Robot-assisted surgery goes beyond hardware to help surgeons improve their skills and patient outcomes. A recent report by Credence Research revealed that the global market share for surgical robotics was $7.24 billion in 2015, and it’s predicted to leap above $20 billion by 2023. That’s a well-founded assessment.
Robot-assisted surgery is mostly associated with minimally invasive surgery - surgical procedures carried out with tiny incisions. With the use of surgical robots, tiny cameras can be inserted into a patient’s body through small incisions and delicate and complex procedures can be performed with enhanced precision. The minimally invasive approach leads to fewer complications, like surgical site infections, helps in faster patient recovery and reduces pain and blood loss.
AI-enabled robots are increasingly being used to assist surgeons with microsurgery. One successful example was the use of an AI-assisted robot to suture small blood vessels (some as small as .03 millimeters across) at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The robotic system, controlled by a surgeon, replicated the surgeon’s hand movements at a miniature scale and AI was used to stabilize any tremors in the surgeon’s movements, successfully completing the procedure.
In 2019, around 5000 surgical robots were used in more than 1 million procedures worldwide. Surgical procedures once considered impossible now have the potential to become reality with new and advanced robotics. In the near future, robotic-assisted surgery will include enhanced imaging, less-invasive approaches, data analytics, and training and optimized learning. Further, the use of medical robotics for precision surgery will eventually help to reduce costs and improve the quality of life after surgery.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are becoming increasingly available and affordable, and their applications in intraoperative surgery and post-operative recovery are now being widely explored.
AR refers to technology that superimposes computer-generated images onto a real-life environment. Within the scope of surgery, neurosurgeons are increasingly using AR to identify inflated blood vessels and map the safest route for tumor removal. In orthopedic operations, reconstructions can be viewed directly on top of a patient’s body with the help of AR.
VR, on the other hand, generates a completely artificial computer simulated environment with real-time interaction. VR is being increasingly used for endoscopic trainings and a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials shows a reduction in operative time and error rate when VR training is used for new trainees with no prior experience. In future, VR 3D technology will be used in simulation-based training and this will replace all 2D videos and other surgical training and coaching packages.
A Goldman-Sachs report forecasts that by 2025, the augmented reality healthcare market would be worth $5.1 billion, with around 3.4 million users throughout the world. In surgery, being able to visualize what is happening inside the patient allows surgical staff to decide on the best course of treatment. Head Mounted Displays with AR or VR will help the surgical teams to make the right decisions. In future, AR and VR will provide the foundation for surgeons to be able to look at the patient and see their preoperative data precisely overlaid directly onto them.
Leverage new digital technologies
With the constant evolution of the surgical technology landscape, hospitals and providers need to be on top of their game and prepared for new innovations. When purchasing surgical technology, choose vendor-agnostic designs, which can integrate and adapt to the hospital’s changing needs. In order to benefit from technological advancements and leverage new technologies, hospitals should future-proof themselves, while simultaneously keeping the cost savings produced by their investment in mind.