How AI can help surgeons get a better view of their patients

Jeff Rowe
Much of the future of surgical tech, says one stakeholder, involves using AI to help surgeons see better.

It’s not surprising that one of the core challenges facing many surgeons is getting a good look at exactly what they’re operating on.

A recent article at the British tech-zine Verdict describes the myriad ways AI may be able to help.

As Gabe Jones, co-founder and CEO of Proprio, a computer vision technology provider, sums it up, surgeons are often forced to rely on 2D images that may or may not be accurate.

“Surgeons are forced to do a lot of calculations in their heads,” he said “including assessing whether what they’re looking at is accurate and up-to-date.”

Describing his company’s product – and surgical AI in general – as an “intelligent co-pilot for the most difficult moments in a surgery,” Jones says that “(w)ith the integration of AI, augmented reality, and real-time surgical intelligence, surgeons will be able to use Proprio to see around obstacles and align their movements with digitally displayed 3D surgical path plans.

“AI enables individual elements of anatomy to be identified and tracked independently, so a surgeon can have improved awareness of their precise location in the body and potentially avoid unnecessary injury to the patient.”

Echoing Jones’ enthusiasm, Dr Owase Jeelani,  a Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), noted, “There is little doubt that virtual reality, augmented reality and computer vision in general are going to play a leading role in further developments in surgery and healthcare over the coming decades. We are already using a number of these technologies in surgical theaters, albeit in a rudimentary fashion given the technology’s potential.”

That said, Jeelani also highlighted the continuing importance of all the human-based knowledge that forms the foundation of both surgical technique and AI itself.  Dubbing it “NI,” or “natural intelligence,” Jeelani observes that “AI’s biggest promise is in structuring algorithms and crunching astronomical amounts of data to reveal associations and causation  –  in other words to give us answers. That done, these answers need to be incorporated back into the real world to deliver real outcomes. This will, for the foreseeable future, need NI.”

In the end, for Proprio’s Jones, the greatest benefit of AI in surgery isn’t necessarily the vision or knowledge it can give surgeons, but the mental freedom.

“AI is a powerful set of tools that can be used to analyse all of the information around a surgery and the operating room  –  think Google Maps for the human body,” he explained. “However the most ambitious applications of AI in medicine will free up human cognition from the most mundane tasks and enable humans and computers to focus on what each does best.”

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