Augmented Intelligence in Surgery: Healthcare’s Future | HCLTech

Augmented intelligence in surgery: The next frontier in healthcare

The use of augmented intelligence in surgery is in its infancy, but the potential to transform healthcare is getting the industry excited
6 minutes read
Nicholas Ismail
Nicholas Ismail
Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCLTech
6 minutes read
Augmented intelligence in surgery: The next frontier in healthcare

Compared to other industries, healthcare has been slow to adopt next-generation technologies. In the automotive industry, for example, GPS has been embedded into vehicles for many years and in aviation, planes have the capability to take-off, fly and land automatically.

There are two key reasons for the slower adoption of technology in healthcare. The first is cost. The cost of adopting robotics is high, which has caused penetration to remain low. The second is that the healthcare ecosystem is comparatively conservative. When it comes to healthcare and surgery, the burden of proof is quite high and requires years of testing and approvals from regulators like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Looking at surgery in particular, the practice has been carried out for hundreds of years. Over time, with better training, a more in-depth knowledge of human physiology and the development of more precise surgical tools, surgeons have become more proficient without the significant aid of technology.

The first use of robotic-assisted surgery took place in 1985. PUMA 560, a surgical robot, was used in a brain biopsy to reduce the impact of hand tremors during the procedure. In more recent times, according to Strategic Market Research, between 2012 and 2022, the percentage of general surgery procedures using robotic surgery rose from 1.8% to 17%. Despite penetration remaining low, there is a clear growth trajectory.

Today, the tide is changing. Reliability has been demonstrated through other industry applications, leading to increased levels of confidence in the healthcare industry and making the adoption of next-generation technology more palatable.

Embracing augmented intelligence and AI in surgery

The healthcare industry is now ready to embrace technologies like augmented intelligence and AI in surgery to improve patient care and reduce risk during procedures.

Essential Surgery, the first volume in the Disease Control Priorities, third edition (DCP3) series, explains the current landscape by highlighting global estimates that suggest at least seven million people suffer complications following surgery each year, including at least one million deaths. According to the book, as many as 50% of these deaths and complications are preventable.

“These complications are a result of many factors. One is that surgeons are trained differently with different skill levels. There are also some variations in the anatomy of individual patients. Additionally, something that’s difficult to quantify is measuring the physical and cognitive fatigue of surgeons. Given all these considerations, surgical errors are bound to happen,” explains Anthony Fernando, President and CEO of Asensus Surgical — the company digitizing the interface between the surgeon and patient to pioneer a new era of performance-guided surgery.

To overcome these challenges, technology is now viewed as a crucial ally. With augmented intelligence and AI, healthcare organizations can standardize surgical procedures, reducing variability and complications, while increasing efficiency. The focus is now on leveraging these digital technology tools and their capabilities to deliver better outcomes for patients and reduce the cognitive fatigue of surgeons.

“We’re just at the beginning of this journey,” adds Fernando. “Augmented intelligence tools require a significant amount of data to help normalize surgical procedures and processes. As a result, this radical change in healthcare is going to be a gradual evolution. It will take time to gain a higher level of confidence in the data. But ultimately, the introduction of digital technologies will improve safety standards and help novice surgeons operate at a higher level, while assisting more seasoned practitioners with the most complicated surgeries.”

To deliver this transformation, Fernando recommends a phase-based approach, introducing these technologies to surgeons and hospitals on a small scale, collecting the data and then demonstrating the value delivered. That proof will then cycle back and drive adoption. The key is to help the healthcare industry understand the evolution of these technologies and how they can transform the sector.

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An augmented future in healthcare

The proliferation of technology in healthcare and surgery will cause significant changes in the industry.

Perhaps the biggest change will come in how surgeons are trained. Once established, a performance-guided surgical platform with a trained digital assistant will help surgeons train much faster, augment their skills and deliver exceptional care to their patients. The introduction of technology will represent a paradigm shift in medical training and education.

Looking ahead to a technology-assisted future, Fernando says: “Beyond training, the adoption of augmented intelligence will reduce complications and variability in surgery, while also helping alleviate the impending global surgeon shortage. These tools will contribute to the betterment of patient outcomes and help hospitals become more efficient and cost effective. In addition, and most importantly, technology will help improve the performance of surgeons, because they will experience less cognitive fatigue, enabling them to focus on the most critical task, the patient.”

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