Proof of feasibilityThe key result of the study is the proof of the fundamental feasibility of an artificial intelligence (AI)-based assessment of a surgeon's skill in the context of a surgical procedure. The AI used in the study identified good or moderate surgical skill with 87 percent accuracy. This can be considered a very good finding. Lead author Joël Lavanchy explains: "What was surprising was the high degree of algorithms' accuracy with the selected method. Our method of assessing surgical skills is based on the analysis of instrument movement. Surgical instruments were identified using computer algorithms and their movement was analyzed during the time period."
Innovative, three-stage approach with AIThe research team used a newly developed, three-stage approach. The study was based on 242 videos of laparoscopic gallbladder removal procedures. The first step was to identify the instruments used. For this purpose, a convolutional neural network (CNN) was trained to recognize the instruments. In the second step, the movements were analyzed, and their patterns were extracted. In the third step, the extracted movement patterns correlated with rating results by experts using linear regression.
Broader database and in-depth training of algorithms is neededThe present study is an important first step towards assessing surgical performance. More in-depth steps are needed before the technology can be used in clinical practice. For one thing, the AI algorithms need to be trained on a broader database to further improve instrument recognition. For another thing, additional surgeries need to be investigated and, in the medium term, videos of open surgeries as well as procedures apart from the abdominal area can be addressed.
Dr. Enes Hosgor, a co-author of the study who leads the AI division at caresyntax, a medical technology company headquartered in Berlin and Boston, classifies the results as follows: "AI has mainly been used thus far to identify instruments or specific surgical phases. In our study, we now assess surgical skill based on surgical videos. In the future, the use of AI can solve problems at multiple levels: it is available on-demand peri-operatively (not dependent on a few hard-to-find experts); it is objective using algorithm-driven standards; it is comparable at a transregional level as well as surgeon level and could thus provide important support for decision-making processes at certification institutes."
AI at medical location in Bern: CAIM as an opportunityThe project provides an important indication of the future development of the use of AI in medicine. In the future, it will shift from the erstwhile evaluation of image material to the provision of expert systems. Prof. Guido Beldi, head of the study, clarifies: "The study is a first step. Now that we have demonstrated the fundamental feasibility, we can start planning assistance systems that will support surgeons during operations. For example, they will be alerted when fatigue is detected, thereby helping to prevent complications."
Lavanchy, J.L., Zindel, J., Kirtac, K. et al.
Automation of surgical skill assessment using a three-stage machine learning algorithm.
Sci Rep 11, 5197 (2021). doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-84295-6