New technology, similar to the navigation system for self-driving cars, is helping patients with back pain, the leading cause of disability for people under 65. An estimated 500,000 lumbar spine surgeries are done every year, and this technology is improving accuracy and patient safety in the operating room.
For 66-year-old Sam Demaria, this is a victory. Demaria has been living with chronic back pain for 15 years. He had six back surgeries over the years; the first five brought temporary relief, but then he’d be laid up again.
“The only comfort I had was in my bed, on my back, with pillows under my leg—that was it,” Demaria said. “If I came downstairs, I lasted five minutes; went right back upstairs.”
“He had scoliosis and multi-level, basically, numerous nerves that were getting compressed in numerous places,” said Dr. Jeremy Steinberger, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Steinberger and his team performed Demaria’s sixth surgery, but this time they had a new navigation system using machine vision technology.
“You can basically touch a probe to the patient, and you see where you are on the patient’s spine,” Steinberger said.
Machine vision technology is similar to the technology and sophisticated software used in self-driving cars. In a surgical suite, special cameras analyze the anatomy and create a 3D image. A light overhead takes a flash image. In four seconds, it gives surgeons thousands of fiducial points to register a patient’s CT scans.
“That’s what links the patient to the technology, and that’s when you can check to confirm that you’re accurate,” Steinberger said.
“I was pain-free after the surgery,” Demaria said. “I’m standing up straight, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish.”
Demaria says he is moving better than he has in years.
One added benefit to the technology: The new navigation system does not require a patient to have fluoroscopy medical imaging that requires a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, thus reducing radiation.