Healing Our Fractured World

Written by: Dr. Ronen Gordon, MBBS BSc, Clinical Information Manager, Zebra Medical Vision

Wherever in the world you are reading this, almost entirely without exception, your life is inescapably different to how you lived a mere four months ago. The pandemic that has swept across the globe has driven most of us into a state of house-bound lockdown, exiting only for strictly necessary items such as food and medicines. Our life focus has shifted to address only our most critical needs, with many non-essential endeavours falling by the wayside. Our frontline healthcare workers are rightly hailed as heroes for battling the virus on all fronts, often putting their own safety in disregard, in a typically selfless manner. I have followed closely the social media posts of former NHS colleagues with awe and admiration. As countries begin carefully lifting lockdown measures, the fear of the virus’s second wave is sprawled across many news headlines, I don’t doubt with good reason. 

However, similar to how our personal lives have shifted to focus on the essentials only, healthcare institutions globally have been forced to cancel millions of elective procedures to stand a chance against COVID, directing all their resources (human as well as equipment) to the frontline. As a semblance of normality returns, and hospitals pass through the second and perhaps third and fourth waves of Coronavirus-related admissions, the backlog of ‘routine’ or ‘non-essential’ medical treatments and investigations will continue to build up. The effects of the pandemic on our healthcare institutions will be felt long after the last COVID patient has left the building. Months of delays to cancer surgery, knee replacements, diabetic assessments, cataract operations, in addition to months of reduced patient-physician interaction to manage cardiovascular risk, mental health conditions, and child development assessments will continue to place stress on our healthcare providers for a long while to come. 

In and amongst this perfect storm of pressure currently facing our healthcare systems, you may question the relevance or importance of us today announcing our fifth FDA clearance for a radiological AI solution identifying vertebral compression fractures on chest and abdominal CT scans. I can understand your apprehension. 

One in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will suffer from an osteoporosis-related fragility fracture1, often associated with significant loss of independence, morbidity and mortality. Between both my grandmothers, I can count seven osteoporosis-related fractures in the last few years, and I’m certain most of you reading this have relatives whose lives have also changed following a fracture. The pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to reduce fracture risk are well evidence-based, as are fracture liaison services – the healthcare teams designed to specifically find and treat patients at risk of a future fracture. As described in more detail in today’s announcement, vertebral fractures are a strong predictor of future fracture risk. The ubiquitous use of CT scans for many clinical conditions presents an opportunity to find vertebral fractures when they were not the investigation’s original focus, bringing more patients to potential preventative treatments, stopping the major fractures before they happen.

Rightly, the acute crisis takes precedence but there comes a time when population health management must come back into focus to ensure a healthier future. The Radiological Society for North America (RSNA) last month released some guidance on “Transitioning to a New Normal after COVID-19”, specifically aimed at providing radiologists with advice on how to get cancer imaging back on track. The latest addition to our FDA approved solutions will help healthcare systems to get osteoporosis management back on track, denting the $52 billion cost of osteoporosis in the U.S. alone. Clinicians tasked with building the ‘New Normal’ can benefit dramatically by using AI tools such as this to augment their existing efforts. 

I am incredibly privileged to work for a company committed to improving our health and the working lives of our heroic healthcare professionals, in times of crisis and going forward as we look to the future. By sheer coincidence (or not…) our exciting FDA news is perfectly timed with National Osteoporosis Month, raising awareness of good bone health and the important role of vertebral compression fractures.

Wishing you all good (bone) health.

1 https://www.nof.org/news/may-national-osteoporosis-month-2020-provide-a-clear-vision-to-achieving-good-bone-health/

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