How Northumbria Healthcare is Revolutionising Surgical Decision-Making with AI

AI is quickly transforming many industries, and healthcare is no exception. AI tools are transforming how medical professionals diagnose, treat, and monitor patient diseases, and organisations across the globe are leveraging the technology with applications ranging from personalised medicine to medical imaging analysis and even surgical decision-making.

Northumbria Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest and top-performing NHS foundation trusts, is well known for using innovation to enhance patient care and is dedicated to pushing boundaries, even in the realm of cutting-edge technology. With that in mind, the trust is now turning to AI to enable surgeons with data-driven insights and help patients make more personalised surgical decisions.

Empowering Surgeons with AI

Two progressive orthopaedic surgeons at Northumbria Healthcare, Professor Mike Reed and Dr Justin Green, were struggling with the lack of easily accessible surgical risk evaluations for their patients and were keen to find a better solution. While surgeons have historically estimated surgical risks based on their expertise and experience, the method can be arbitrary and doesn’t always consider specific patient characteristics. Reed and Green envisioned a more data-driven approach to surgical decisions, which could offer a more precise and individualised evaluation of each patient’s distinct risk profile.

Seeing the potential of AI to address this issue, Northumbria Healthcare selected Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning platform as the cornerstone for its AI solution. Azure Machine Learning offered the potential to build and train AI models on massive amounts of historical patient data, including a patient’s medical history, demographics, the specifics of the planned surgery, and even the outcomes of prior surgeries in patients with comparable conditions. The AI model finds patterns and associations by analysing these many data sets, which can be used to forecast potential risks related to a procedure for a given patient. Notably, the model assigns a risk score rather than simply providing a yes-or-no response. Surgeons can use this number to determine how likely it is that a particular patient undergoing a given procedure would experience complications.

However, responsible AI was a fundamental part of the solution; the risk analysis model’s internal workings and decision-making process needed to be transparent. Patients needed to not only receive a risk score but also to understand the reasoning behind that output. This is where the relationship between AI and human expertise is vital, especially in a healthcare setting where trust is paramount. Fortunately, by incorporating the Responsible AI dashboard in Azure, surgeons were able to understand why the AI model arrived at specific conclusions; surgeons are then able to incorporate AI-based knowledge into their surgical planning and patient conversations and ensure patients understand the reasoning behind its predictions. Ultimately, the AI model is a valuable tool that enhances, not replaces, surgical expertise.

The Benefits of AI in Surgical Decision-Making

The creative application of AI in surgical decision-making by Northumbria Healthcare is yielding real advantages for surgeons and patients alike, with some of the benefits including:

  • Improved Patient Outcomes – surgeons can identify patients who may be more susceptible to complications by using AI-powered risk prediction. This makes it possible to choose the best surgical procedures, organise the preoperative phase more carefully, and make any necessary modifications to maximise the care of each patient. Ultimately, this may result in quicker patient recovery periods and improved surgical results.
  • Empowered Patients – surgical risk talks have historically tended to be general and may miss the subtleties of a given patient’s circumstances. With the AI model, surgeons receive a customised risk estimate for every patient. Patients can then be given clear and simple explanations to explain the risk score, empowering them to take a more active role in joint decision-making about their procedure.
  • Improved Resource Allocation – surgeons can more efficiently manage resources by identifying high-risk patients prior to surgery. A high-risk patient, for instance, would need a surgical team with more experience or more monitoring resources throughout the recovery phase. Based on each patient’s unique needs, this data-driven strategy guarantees that patients receive the right level of treatment.
  • Reduced Operative Risks – by being more informed about the risk of surgery, surgeons can take preventative steps and potentially reduce post-surgical problems. Patients can gain from this by having a more seamless recuperation process, and the healthcare system can save money as a result.

Professor Reed and Dr Green have noticed a considerable improvement since using the AI model. They can have more candid and open discussions with their patients and empower them to make informed decisions. It has become an extremely valuable tool that complements their expertise, allowing them to deliver a more personalised and data-driven approach to surgery.

The Expanding Role of AI in Surgery

The innovative application of AI in surgical decision-making by Northumbria Healthcare is just one example of how the technology can transform the healthcare industry. Beyond risk assessment, artificial intelligence has a wide range of potential uses in surgery, including:

  • Robotic Surgery Assistance – AI-driven robotic devices may be able to help surgeons with intricate operations, providing increased precision and possibly improving surgical results and patient recovery periods.
  • Surgical Planning Optimisation – by analysing patient data and medical imaging, AI algorithms may create customised surgical plans that best suit each person’s particular anatomy.
  • Post-Operative Care Management – AI could examine post-operative data to spot possible issues early on, facilitating prompt action and better patient outcomes.

However, in addition to the evident potential of AI in surgery, there are also moral issues that need to be carefully considered. Concerns about data privacy, reducing bias in AI models, and ensuring AI eventually strengthens rather than eliminates the indispensable role of a knowledgeable and experienced human surgeon are just a few.

Northumbria Healthcare looks set to stay at the forefront of innovation as AI intelligence develops further. The trust is setting the stage for a future in surgery that is data-driven, personalised, and ultimately patient-centred through its dedication to innovation and ethical AI practices. Meanwhile, Microsoft will continue to play a leading role, encouraging innovation with AI and empowering healthcare providers, such as Northumbria Healthcare, with leading-edge and responsible AI technologies that will contribute to better experiences and patient outcomes.