How AI Is Changing Orthopedic Surgery

When people talk about artificial intelligence and surgery, it’s quite natural that we might feel a little uncomfortable. Would you really trust a computer to make decisions about your healthcare, and maybe even to perform surgeries on you? For most people, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’! However, if you break down the uses of artificial intelligence in the orthopedic field, it’s easy to see the technology’s benefits.

Identification of surgery outcomes

According to Joseph H. Schwab, chief of spine surgery and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, AI is having a huge impact on the identification of surgery outcomes. Convolutional neural networks and deep learning algorithms can be used in image analysis, and predictive models applied to identify the most likely outcomes of any surgery or treatment. 

Traditionally, a single surgeon or team of surgeons would rely on their past experiences and vast medical training when analyzing a patient to make a decision about whether surgery was likely to have a favorable outcome and if so what that outcome would be. Machine learning means that the knowledge of surgeons all over the world, all with different educations and experiences, can be utilized to make predictions using models that have been specifically designed for the job by a team of experts. It’s like having hundreds of surgeons look over your case at the same time, and with the added bonus that there will be no arguing based on individual ideas because the model for analyzing the outcome has already been designed.

With AI, analysis of the data might identify that an alternative treatment to avoid joint replacement surgery could be used, and that could have a better outcome for the patient.

Smart bandages

Wounds that take a long time to heal are a risk for infection. These wounds are a particular problem in orthopedic surgery as a lot of orthopedic patients are older. Smart bandages are helping to address this issue, as they can monitor the condition of the wound without the need to remove the bandage to look at it. This not only reduces the risk of infecting an exposed wound, but saves valuable time for caregivers.

Smart bandages can also monitor the way that wounds are healing, so that surgeons can be sure that they are healing as they intended and if not, make an intervention much sooner.

Robotic surgery

AI is also being utilized for surgery itself. The Da Vinci surgical system facilitates minimally invasive surgery as it is operated by a surgeon, in the same room, from a console. It has been criticized as outcomes have not necessarily been better than if a human had performed the same surgery in a non-invasive way, however, it could be revolutionary as each time the system is used, the Da Vinci system learns from the surgeon operating it. In theory, this could mean that the robot has the same experience as thousands of surgeons at the same time, which potentially promises a great opportunity for improving surgical outcomes.

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