Being a spine surgeon requires the dedication, training, and focus of a professional athlete with significantly more at stake – patients’ lives. Spine surgery can be complex, and patient and surgeon training is a continuous learning process. Even experienced spine surgeons are constantly measuring, monitoring, and analyzing the results of each case and looking for ways to improve how they operate and educate.
Now, there are incredible advancements in technology that can enhance how spine surgeons learn.
AI for Spine Surgery
In the age of big data, there is a lot of healthcare information that we regularly collect, including:
- digital medical records
- decisions about patient evaluation and selection
- preop case preparation
- intraoperative surgical technique through navigation and robotics, and
- postop patient follow-up using patient communication apps, wearables, and more.
However, making sense of this data can be complex and time-consuming. Many healthcare systems deal with highly fragmented data from legacy platforms that do not “talk” to each other. As a result, getting meaningful insights can be very challenging.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms designed with the surgical process in mind can help.
A unified AI that integrates and analyzes the entire surgical flow from preop to postop can generate intelligent predictive analytics. These analytics can help surgeons:
- predict postop outcomes at the preop stage
- pinpoint how to improve surgical accuracy in the OR
- learn to personalize postop pain management for each patient
- minimize inefficiencies in the surgical process
- improve patient and resident education through AI-generated, custom, 3D anatomic models
Additionally, in general, patients prefer Minimally Invasive Procedures (MIS) and in an outpatient setting. While hip and knee procedures are rapidly migrating to ASCs (Ambulatory Surgical Centers), spine surgeries have been slower to transition to outpatient procedures. This is because many spine cases continue to be too complex for an outpatient setting.
An intelligent ecosystem of Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics can help spine surgeons finetune patient selection, improve outcomes and overall efficiencies. Eventually, these insights can help transition more spine procedures to an outpatient setting.
AR for Spine Surgery
Another innovation in spine surgery is the introduction of AR or Augmented Reality. AR technology, currently delivered through AR goggles, superimposes a surgeon’s view of the surgical site with patient-specific digital content designed to guide them through every step - like surgical GPS.
AR technology is proving to be a game changer in the world of spine.
Since MIS procedures have smaller incisions than open surgery, spine surgeons do not have as much visibility into a patient’s anatomic structures. But with AR, this is changing.
Augmented reality-based and 3D navigation have helped improve the accuracy of pedicle screw placement in fusion surgery. If screws are not placed correctly, there can be catastrophic complications like permanent nerve and vessel damage.
AR is also being used to train surgical residents. Through AR, faculty can teach and evaluate residents as they place virtual screws. The technology will continue to evolve and help surgeons learn how to place interbody cages and much more in the near future.
Additionally, when AR data from surgery and training is integrated into an intelligent AI platform, predictive analytics can help identify key learning challenges and areas of improvement.
VR for Spine Surgery
VR or Virtual Reality is revolutionizing the world of surgical education. Currently, learning in spine surgery is through didactic instructions, surgical observations, and cadaver labs. VR technology can generate interactive, artificial 3D simulations for surgical residents and surgeons to practice surgical skills and learn to troubleshoot complex cases based on real-world scenarios. While useful in their own way, traditional methods cannot come close to simulating the operating surgeon’s experience in the OR.
For example, cadavers can be used to learn how to navigate soft tissues. Still, residents will not know how to manage blood loss, potential complications from comorbidities, and more. With the popularity of MIS procedures for spine cases, VR can help trainees learn how to work with the challenges of smaller incisions.
VR education is cost-effective, reproducible, and an excellent addition to the existing course curriculum for surgical residents and fellows. Using VR, surgeons can even conduct effective global training on complex procedures and help improve global spine surgery-related patient outcomes.
VR will soon become a standard of surgical training, just like pilots train on simulation software for aviation.