A wide range of new innovations is reshaping the way that surgeries are performed. Now, many hospitals are relying on robots, artificial intelligence, and even cloud, in life-saving operations.
A few years ago, this was just a pipe dream, but clearly, technology is accelerating the pace of research at a rate never seen before. Here are four examples of how technology is changing surgery.
Assistance from robots
A study from iData Research found that almost 700,000 robot-assisted procedures were performed in the US in 2017. In that same year, the market for surgical robotic systems was $2.4 billion. The market value includes surgical equipment for neurosurgery, spinal surgery, minimally invasive surgery MIS (gynecological, laparoscopic, urological, colorectal, digestive tract and cardiac surgeries), radiosurgery, orthopedic and catheter robotic-assisted systems.
What are the benefits of robots, you might ask? According to Dr. Amy Lloyd, a Mayo Clinic Health System surgeon, robotic surgeries can lessen pain for patients, compared to laparoscopy and open surgery. She said robots can perform many advanced procedures with smaller incisions. Smaller incisions can reduce pain, as well as the number of opioids prescribed.
She added that she would often hear patients say ‘when can I get back to work?’ after surgery. Patients often can leave the hospital the next day after the operation without any pain medication.
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, uses a layer-by-layer addition technique to create physical medical equipment and products from a three-dimensional digital image.
There’s an increasing number of hospitals around the world that have integrated the practice of 3D printing in their medical care. According to Allied Market Research, the global 3D printing healthcare market size was valued at $973 million in 2018 and is projected to grow to $3.6 billion by 2026.
Here are some of the key applications of 3D printing in surgery.
- Orthopedic implants – 3D printing enables surgeons to create better-fitting and longer-lasting implants. Today, 3D printers are used to make a wide range of implants, including hip, knee, spinal, and skull implants. By the end of 2027, it’s expected that the number of implants that will be produced using 3D printing will reach 4 million.
- Enhanced surgical tools – Surgical tools like hemostats, forceps, scalpel handles, and clamps can be produced using 3D printers. Creating personalized surgical instruments can facilitate faster and less traumatic procedures, increase surgeons’ dexterity, and support better surgery outcomes.
- Personalized surgery – 3D printing is increasingly being used to come up with patient-specific models of organs, using the patient’s own medical imaging. Surgeons can produce 3D-printed models to assist in presurgical planning. These models help them to better evaluate treatment decisions and plan surgeries more accurately.
According to Global Market Insights Inc., the global healthcare cloud computing market is expected to surpass $55 billion by 2025. Cloud technology allows hospitals to retrieve assets from the internet by using web-based tools and applications.
Surgeons need different kinds of information. Cloud technology offers this capability, whether through electronic medical records (EMRs), medical practice management software, or other secure collaboration tools. Cloud also allows physicians to easily share medical information with members of their team or other specialists. This collaboration is particularly important for providing comprehensive treatment for each patient and identifying issues early.
Cloud technology allows patients to accomplish their medical history online, lessening communication errors over the phone. This ensures doctors have accurate data before patients come in for an appointment or procedure, preventing surgery delays and cancellations.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
In a joint survey conducted by Oxford University and Yale, they found that healthcare could become significantly more reliant on machine intelligence by the middle of the century. The respondents said there’s a 50 percent chance that artificial intelligence (AI) could outperform humans in a variety of tasks by 2045, including surgery.
AI has many uses, including facilitating the surgery and monitoring patients both pre- and post-operation. Moreover, according to Dr. John Birkmeyer, the Chief Clinical Officer at Sound Physicians, AI can help surgeons perform better by minimizing surgical errors. AI helps surgeons determine what’s happening during a complex surgery by providing real-time data points about the surgeon’s movements during the surgery. This helps reduce surgical variation, as surgeons can better understand the techniques that align with better outcomes.
In 2017, the Netherlands’ Maastricht University Medical Center used an AI-assisted robot to suture one patient’s blood vessels – some no large than .03mm. The robotic system, named “robot hands,” was controlled by the surgeon. The robot’s AI helps stabilize the surgeon’s movements, ensuring he performs the procedure correctly.
According to the hospital, the AI-assisted surgery went excellently and now plans to use the robot for microsurgeries in the future.
Technological advances like robots, 3D-printing, cloud technology, and artificial intelligence are the future of surgery. It may sound like a sci-fi movie, but now is the time to start thinking about and preparing for what the future of surgical technology might look like.