Imaging AI will be the backbone of orthopedic surgery planning post-COVID-19

By Asher Kuper, VP of Product at Zebra Medical Vision

As we’ve all learned the hard way this year, the age-old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” is no joke. In the medical world, there are rarely enough resources to manage all the diseases and conditions that plague our populations. Consequently, medical facilities find themselves constantly searching for ways to improve medical procedures and make them more efficient in order to handle an ever-increasing demand of patients and improve their care. Surely, technology can both narrow the gap between medical demand and resources, and also empower healthcare professionals to tackle their challenges with greater efficiency. 

One particular area where these elements are becoming more critical are in preventative care, or population health—especially the case with orthopedic surgery. Each year, millions of patients undergo orthopedic surgeries to address chronic conditions. Although COVID-19 has put a hold on many non-essential operations for several months, according to Life Science Intelligence, orthopedic surgeries will rise from 22.3 million in 2017 to 28.3 million in 2022 worldwide. Facilities need to be equipped to manage it.

Limitations of pre-operative planning amid COVID-19

Every surgeon knows how critical the preoperative planning stage is for a successful operation, whether for joint replacement, fracture treatment, or limb deformities. From film to digital, surgeons would use radiographic imaging equipment to assess patient skeletal structure and the point of surgery. Surgeons have a variety of imaging equipment at their disposal, typically CT, MRI, and X-rays, but that may soon change. 

Under pre-COVID circumstances, resources would be more readily available to surgeons to utilize for planning. But given the current medical facility situation and the bottleneck it’s created regarding all sorts of medical procedures, resources are about to be more scarce for the same procedures, as clinicians scramble to address treatments put on hold. This is where resourcefulness will be critical.

CT vs. X-ray

Computerized tomographic imaging is one modality that surgeons can opt for in planning orthopedic surgeries, albeit the less popular one. Moreover, as COVID-19-impeded cases return, and in large numbers, CT, a useful imaging but luxurious tool, will likely be less readily available. Moreover, many facilities to begin with are deficient of some of these modalities. For example, in the UK, the BBC reported an alarming shortage of CT scanners due to underfunding during the pandemic. Across the pond, the U.S. healthcare system has an estimated 45 CT scanners per 1 million inhabitants, according to 2019 OECD data, far behind the group leader, Japan, which sits at 111. 

X-ray is the main imaging modality that surgeons elect to use in pre-operative planning. In comparison with CT imaging costs, x-ray imaging typically costs less. A 2016 HealthDay report regarding imaging costs in three states found that x-rays cost between $41 to $285, while CT scans cost $437 to $2,239 a piece. More importantly, CT scanners may be uncomfortable for some patients and expose them to higher concentrations of ionized radiation. 

X-ray radiography imaging is the preferred choice of preoperative imaging in most situations, and in the absence of a CT scanner or clinical preferential reasons, it can serve as a viable alternative and supplement CT, through the power of imaging AI.

The transformative power of AI

Over the course of the pandemic, AI emerged as a valuable asset in hospitals and associated clinics as a tool to improve resource efficiency, strengthen diagnostics, and manage patient volumes. For years now, developments in the medtech AI space have empowered radiologists, in a medical discipline facing shortages, to handle large workloads and diagnose more confidently. With the pandemic expected to come largely to a close by 2021 summer’s end with Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, AI will once again play a key role in managing the aforementioned bottleneck. And it’s AI that will allow resources to be transformed entirely during this post-pandemic period, especially in preoperative planning with x-ray imaging.

Zebra Medical Vision’s latest FDA-cleared AI-driven program, the x-ray-based 3D imaging orthopedic solution, is empowering surgeons to extract accurate bone measurements for the orthopedic preoperative planning process from x-ray images. The x-ray AI solution will provide hospitals with a cost-effective solution, while maintaining the same quality as CT images. 

Through AI, preoperative planning imaging modalities can be transformed in a way that can expand resource capacities and alleviate the post-COVID pressure. Zebra Medical Vision is with the radiology community and its associated disciplines to optimize diagnosis via medical imaging and improve resourcefulness and capacitate surgeons for planning.

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