Are you ready for the smart operating rooms of the future?

The Operating Room of the Future (Orthofeed)

A host of changes hold out the promise that surgery will be more efficient, more effective and less risky for patients

The operating room is getting smarter, more effective—and a lot less risky for patients.

Hospitals are investing in new devices, designs and digital technologies that promise a new era of innovation for surgery. The moves are part of a growing shift away from traditional open procedures that involve big incisions, lots of blood loss and long hospitalizations. They point toward a future where more patients can choose minimally invasive outpatient surgeries, with faster recoveries, fewer complications, and less pain and scarring.

These new technologies cover a range of advances. With some, surgeons can control robot cameras with eye movements as they move into patients’ bodies through tiny incisions. With others, doctors can create a GPS-like map projected onto a patient’s body to virtually see inside the anatomy before an operation, track their surgical tools and help them operate more precisely.

Other advances aim to reshape the operating room itself, by adding more space for surgeons to work as well as imaging equipment that lets patients receive X-rays and other tests on the operating table instead of getting shuttled around the hospital. And machine learning and artificial-intelligence technology is being developed to let surgeons tap into big data before, during and after they work, to get guidance from computer systems that have analyzed the procedures and learned to make recommendations.

If successful, these changes could have a profound effect on patients. Despite years of progress, surgery remains a risky field. Infections are a frequent complication and can cause death. Studies have shown that even in the same hospital there are large variations in outcomes among surgeons, related to differences in judgment, skills and individual capabilities. Lower-skilled surgeons have higher rates of complications, readmissions to the hospital and repeat operations. New technology could help level the playing field.

“The field of surgery is evolving very fast, and technological advances are making it more efficient and effective and improving patient outcomes,” says Santiago Horgan, chief of the division of minimally invasive surgery at the University of California, San Diego, and director of its Center for the Future of Surgery, which is equipped with the latest technology to train surgeons with simulated procedures. While surgery may never be fully automated, Dr. Horgan says, “in the future robots will be smarter and more interactive, bringing as much information to surgeons as possible during surgery.”

Of course, many technologies are still in development, and others have yet to be widely adopted or fully evaluated for safety and cost-effectiveness. And some in the health-care industry warn about embracing new technologies too quickly.

By Laura Landro | The Wall Street Journal

Image Credit: Laura Landro / WSJ