How Are Surgeries Changing in an Increasingly Digital World?
The people of this generation are witnesses to and protagonists of one of the most radical changes that humanity has experienced: the digitalization of work processes.
Although this revolution opens great opportunities for well-being, the United Nations (UN) said on March 6 that countries that do not rapidly adopt digital innovations may be condemning their populations to live on the margins. This also applies to healthcare services.
From 2019 to 2022, the number of research and projects related to the adoption of new health technologies or medtech was expected to grow 264% worldwide, according to the study The Future of HealthCare Technology: The Rise of Digital Health, prepared by AlphaSense, a New York-based technology market research platform.
It must be recognized that change is unfolding at such a speed that it has generated doubts, fear and mistrust, but it must also be made clear that it is incorrect to think that technology will push physicians aside; in reality, these tools will help to improve or maintain a surgeon’s accuracy.
This reduces the patient's time in the operating room and the frequency of errors. In addition, having a larger practice improves access to treatment for more patients and improves the economic equation in healthcare systems, which are under pressure around the world.
Operating Room Digitalization
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and confinement, national healthcare systems had to take a step forward in the adoption of technologies like telemedicine, robotics, digital therapeutics and incorporation of artificial intelligence and big data for diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
This transformation can be clearly appreciated in one of its most complex and delicate processes: surgeries, where computation, engineering and mathematics help to perform smarter, less invasive, and more personalized interventions.
There are already dozens of medical disciplines where the use of digital tools is present in the operating room, as in colon and heart surgeries, gynecology, thorax and bariatric surgeries.
The best way to explain this technological revolution is with examples of operating rooms in Mexico and many countries around the world.
1. Real-time incision and displacement calculations
The history of medicine demonstrates the great challenge involved in making an incision and finding the exact point on the human body where the intervention is to be performed.
While the 19th and 20th century made great contributions, such as the advent of X-rays, ultrasound and CT scans to improve accuracy, it has now become critical to develop innovative and non-invasive technologies that surgeons use to help ensure accuracy and precision in highly complex surgeries, like hip replacement.
This technology includes tools that provide real-time leg length and displacement calculation and automatically calculates the change in leg length and displacement for all implant combinations in an easy-to-read table.
2. Real-time data analysis while surgery is being performed
For several months now, a system has been available in Mexico that is applied to the work processes that happen in an operating room to reduce variations in efficiency from one patient to the next.
By means of software and high-performance computing, the surgical team can be performing a surgical intervention, while the computers elaborate a data analysis of that patient to inform and support the surgeons with step-by-step digitized surgical flows.
This increases the efficiency of that and future surgeries because it provides real-time learning. In addition, it documents, monitors and analyzes surgical performance results in a self-service platform that can be queried and analyzed post-surgery.
3. Surgical feedback, supported by the cloud
Surgical learning and cloud-based information platforms that capture and store surgical videos, quantifiable clinical information and analytics; perform unbiased assessment and provide actionable feedback; and foster personalized learning and communication have also entered into use in Mexico.
4. Tools for continuous improvement
We know that one of the characteristics of artificial intelligence is continuous learning or machine learning. This feature is essential to take it to the operating room to identify opportunities for improvement in the surgical patient care process through data collection and analysis. This solution improves efficiency, minimizes complexity and reduces care costs.
5. Education through a virtual environment
Another important change within the digitalization of surgeries is the arrival of an educational tool for young doctors to acquire experience at a higher speed, through the simulation of surgeries in virtual spaces.
This type of digital tool promotes the repetition of a logical sequence of steps in a surgical environment that helps develop skills in the safe use of surgical devices.
In the case of Mexico and Latin America, there are training centers that are organized through training modules, previously validated by the Imperial College of London. This allows residents and fellows in training to complete different educational levels to increase confidence and skill in surgical procedures.
The number of examples of digital solutions is increasing every month and proves the correctness of the analysis and prospective made by the WHO in 2007, when it pointed out that "health technologies provide health professionals with tools that are indispensable for effective and efficient prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation and the achievement of the internationally agreed health-related development goals.
We are witnesses to and protagonists of one of the most accelerated changes that humanity has ever experienced.
Scientific innovation is reinventing healthcare in an increasingly digital world, with the objective of helping to save lives and create a future where surgeries are smarter, less invasive and more personalized. Adopting these technologies is essential to avoid the marginalization and backwardness that the UN has warned about.