By George Murgatroyd, Vice President and General Manager, Digital Surgery, Surgical Robotics, Medtronic
Video review to enhance performance for professional athletes is an accepted part of remaining at the top. AI-powered video review technology helps athletes at nearly every competitive level make the subtle changes that can be the difference between winning and losing a game. It’s surprising that surgeons, who often operate using video camera systems, don’t benefit from the same opportunity to review their cases.
Let’s consider the world of sport in a bit more depth – and how video has changed the game. Brett Haskell, an athletic psychologist at the University of Nebraska says, “basically, we are not great at being objective.” Haskell says video is a central part of the review process in sports because biases, stress, fatigue, and the pressure of the moment, cause most athletes and coaches to remember key moments in a game differently from how they actually happened. “Video,” he says, “restores our brains with some of the objectivity lost in the heat of the battle.” Or, as Marquette University Head Basketball coach Shaka Smart once said, “The tapes don’t lie.”
A 2020 Ohio University report by students seeking master’s degrees in athletic administration, found that technology is revolutionizing sports training by perfecting athlete movements, enhancing communication, and virtually eliminating injuries. Video and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is so profound in sports training that Mounir Zok, the director of technology for the U.S. Olympic Commission, says it essentially creates a “digital code” for winning a gold medal.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot here that we can learn from and apply in the world of surgery, and its own equivalent of an arena: the operating room (OR). So, what’s holding us back?
Firstly, sports professionals benefit from a cameraperson, filming the event; from a team loading the footage, and software in which to analyze the tape. In minimally invasive surgery, including robotic-assisted surgery, surgeons are their own film crew; they are their own editors. And, unfortunately, the technology in the operating room is usually not designed to make their lives easy when it comes to recording or accessing their “game tape.” Even if surgeons do record, getting access to the video after the operation is so difficult to share that many surgeons despair. In a world at home where we can effortlessly stream video on–demand on services like Netflix, surgical teams in the OR must resort to Blockbuster-era DVDs or USB sticks, or hard drives to try and review team performance. In a fast-moving, time-starved surgical world, recording and then accessing the tape is just too hard. Video review technology needs to add value in the OR, by helping the surgical team perform, and seamlessly handing over the video right after the case.
An athlete plays their game; after the match, they review their footage. Serena Williams, I assume, does not sit, after a challenging match, having to download her tournament video onto a USB stick, upload it to cloud storage, stitch the chunks of footage together, screen grab images from it, and type up notes in a separate platform. Before saving it as a PDF and emailing it to her team. For surgeons, this is commonplace.
Our Digital Surgery team grasped this challenge and focused on creating digital tools with the aspiration of getting video to surgeons after their case, with near-zero effort. That led to the launch of the first AI-powered surgical video and analytics platform for the OR, Touch Surgery™ Enterprise.
Touch Surgery™ Enterprise allows surgeons to securely upload, store, analyze and share surgical videos. The technology is designed to integrate seamlessly with existing workflows and above all, it’s easy to use. If surgeons are the film crew, Touch Surgery™ Enterprise is their automated video assistant. Essentially, a computer records procedural footage from their camera, connects to the cloud, and delivers the video directly to them via their Android or iOS phone or web browser. The surgical video is then accessible anytime, anywhere. Netflix, not Blockbuster.
Like the world-class video review tools used by high-performing sports teams and athletes, Touch Surgery™ Enterprise is a valuable training tool that gives surgeons opportunities to review their cases and allows them to build a library of their procedures. All these things add up and impact how surgeons approach cases and provide a wealth of critical data.
Now that we’ve made video easy, we’re working on making it smarter. For the first time, surgeons can now automatically get video combined with automated analysis. This is pivotal to the future of surgery. We are moving to a new era where surgeons can train and perform like athletes do — accessible game tap, analyzed. They can get information and data on the procedures performed, on the steps performed, on critical events, and ways to hone skills and standardize important steps in the surgical process.
While the use of AI and video in sports for performance improvement is an analogy to illustrate the possibilities, healthcare is not a sport. Some aficionados may disagree, but healthcare is more important; it’s used to save a life, prolong life, end suffering; and creating technology to enable better opportunities to learn or review is imperative. And surgical video isn’t filming a player; it’s filming the insides of a patient. Important standards must be met to safeguard patient privacy and ensure security, which USB sticks cannot provision.
An example: When a scope is pulled out of a patient during surgery, it may inadvertently capture images of the patient, staff, or even notes pinned to a wall. That represents a potential risk to privacy and security. Touch Surgery™ Enterprise utilizes AI to automatically recognize and pixelate footage outside the patient and immediately returns to high definition when the camera is reinserted.
Now, video recording technology that helps athletes improve performance to win more games, is available to hospitals to help their surgical teams accomplish a much larger challenge – improving patient care.
This device is not intended to analyze medical images or signals to guide surgery or aid in the diagnosis or treatment of a disease or condition.
Editor’s Note: About the Author George Murgatroyd
Mr. Murgatroyd is vice president and general manager of Digital Surgery within the Surgical Robotics business at Medtronic. He leads a team that is at the forefront of developing AI, computing, and software technologies that are shaping the future of surgery. Follow George on Twitter at @gbmurg.