Image guided surgical systems were originally designed and created by doctors and medical technicians to assist surgeons in the performing of complex neurosurgery that would otherwise not be possible without the assistance of technology. Acting much like the GPS system in your car the combination of screens and scanners allows the surgeon to see a 3D image of both the patient’s anatomy and the location of the surgeon’s surgical implements.
The on screen image is displayed in real time, although there may be a minor lag depending on the type of equipment being used, so the surgeon can adjust their movements and actions as needed with minimal physical trauma to the patient. Thanks to these systems surgeons have visual access to parts of the anatomy that would normally otherwise be hidden in traditional surgery reducing or even illuminating the need for an exploratory component to surgery; the resulting smaller incisions and reduced surgery time increases the safety of the surgery and reduces the opportunity for mistakes and complications.
Additionally, smaller incisions result in reduced scarring which minimizes post-surgery emotional trauma in patients. The systems allow doctors to plan in advance the best possible pathway and procedure which minimizes time spent on the table for the patient thereby helping to shorten recovery time.
With their traditional use being in the area of Neurology, image guided surgical systems have completely altered the prognosis of patients with tumors, blood clots and trauma that was previously considered to be inoperable. The technology has significantly reduced common surgical risks such as damaged healthy tissue and extended time on the table that may result in increased chance of infection or complications from anesthesia. The technology is now commonly used in Neurosurgery in both Europe and North America and due to its success rate, is beginning to become an accepted and common practice around the world.
Although image guided surgical systems were originally designed for use in neurosurgery, other applications for the technology has begun to develop in recent years. In the field of orthopedics the technology is now being used to assist during knee and hip replacement surgery. Although the technology is widely accepted in Europe and is gaining popularity in North America for use in this medical field, due to its recent development, there is very little clinical data to prove or disprove its efficiency. Nevertheless doctors and patients continue to report reductions in surgery duration, physical and emotional trauma, recovery time and post-operative complications.
A more recent application for image guided surgical systems is in the area of Ear, Nose and Throat surgeries. Traditionally these surgeries could be exceptionally complex due to the small size of the anatomical components and the limited visibility in the body cavities. Once again, the technology is proving to reduce the risk to healthy tissue and to increase the rate of recovery. Due to its specialized nature, usage in this field is significantly less than those previously mentioned but popularity is slowly growing as ENT surgeons are beginning to recognize the benefits.
There is currently an emerging application for image guided surgical systems in the area of lymph node mapping. Commonly used technologies in this area have previously limited a surgeon’s ability to see the complete picture with regards to the effects, locations and operability of tumors in the lymphatic system but with the use of surgical imaging new possibilities for treatments and cures are currently being explored.
Technical components of image guided surgical systems generally consist of the Regulus Navigator, Three-Dimensional Displays and Head-Mounted Displays. The Regulus Navigator is an accurate and reliable image guided device that combines information from MRI and CT scans to allow the surgeon to know the precise location of his surgical implements during surgery. 3D displays improve the surgeon’s perception of the area operation and allow real time adjustments to be made during surgery. Head-mounted displays allow the surgeon to access the required imagery without having to alter their line of site from the patient to a screen thus increasing the level of ease with which the technology is used.
Although initial setup can be both time consuming and costly, the long term advantages of image guided surgical systems with regards to cost efficiency cannot be understated. Since the implementation of the technology, recovery times are reduced resulting in shorter hospital stays. The need for future corrective surgery, extended treatment due to infection and the threat of complications due to human error have also been greatly reduced resulting in an overall reduction in the cost of both surgery and short-term post-operative care.
The need for patient counselling due to post-operative trauma has also been diminished which significantly lessons the cost of long term post-operative care. Overall the positive impact that these systems have had on complicated surgical procedures has left a lasting legacy of patients healed and lives saved.