Dr. Jason Huang: What spine surgeons need to provide better care in the future — data, AI and commitment to the patient

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |
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Jason Huang, MD, is the chair of the department of neurosurgery at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Here, he outlines the benefits of robotic technology and where the most significant improvements will occur in spine for the future.

Question: What do you think about robotic technology in the spine field?

Dr. Jason Huang: Current versions of robotic surgery in the spine field are predominantly used in minimally invasive spine procedures, often in conjunction with imaging guidance and live feedback technology. The robot's arms and hands have a high degree of stability and dexterity, allowing spine surgeons to operate with smaller incisions in tight tissue spaces with high precision and less blood loss.

I believe that robotic technology has the potential to improve the outcome of spine surgery in experienced hands of well-trained surgeons. Although there is a learning curve for spine surgeons to use such new technologies, robotic surgery allows surgeons to perform complex surgical tasks through smaller incisions using robotic arms controlled by both surgeon and advanced software programming with less tissue trauma, reduced pain and discomfort, and shorter hospitalization.

In the future, more advanced robotic technology with improved artificial intelligence may have its application in military settings such as allowing spine surgeons to perform operations on patients located remotely in combat hospitals, which can be revolutionary for the field.

Q: Where do you see the biggest need for improvement in spine patient care?

JH: I think that we have made significant progress in areas of treating spinal tumors, spine trauma, severe scoliosis and spinal cord injury. However, we have seen mixed results in areas such as indications for surgery, especially in patients with degenerative spine disease, disc herniation and spinal stenosis for which pain relief is primary treatment goal. We also need better collaborations and data sharing amongst spine surgeons to look at outcome of patients after surgical interventions in areas of degenerative spine diseases.

Q: How do you see trends toward price transparency and value-based care affecting spine?

JH: Price transparency and value based care will allow surgeons to work more efficiently with primary care physicians and other non-surgical providers from different areas (such as physical therapists, chiropractors and pain management doctors) to work collaboratively across the health system. Sometimes early surgical intervention is more cost-effective and can result in better outcome for spine patients; other times patients shall only be treated conservatively to allow for better outcome and less expenses. These trends will force spine surgeons to consider all facets of care in a health system before major decisions are made for more complicated spine patients.

Q: What is the smartest thing you've done in the past 12 months to prepare your practice for the future?

JH: I am teaching our younger neurosurgeons and residents to focus more on patient-centred care than on merely learning 'new technologies.' In the end, we are physicians treating patients under Hippocratic Oath. We not merely advanced robots with fancy surgical tools treating isolated spine diseases. If we always put our patients' interest above everything else, we will be able to train future generations of spine surgeons that are not only highly skilled but also compassionate and caring. They will be successful and happy during the lifetime of their future practice.

To participate in future Becker's Thought Leadership Q&As, contact Laura Dyrda at ldyrda@beckershealthcare.com.

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