Can automation technologies help end dangerous inconsistencies in how surgeries are performed? Advances in robotics offer a glimpse at what the future of medicine will look like, but ensuring surgeons are adequately trained and distributed globally is a more pressing goal, and one for which AI and machine vision are well-suited.
That's the ambition of a company called Theator, which has amassed a vast video dataset of surgical procedures to help standardize surgery and break through the limitations of an aging apprenticeship model of training.
You don't have to look hard to find inequality in global healthcare, but surgery is an area particularly ripe with inconsistencies. For example, Black children in the U.S. are three times as likely as white children to die within a month of surgery. Globally, an estimated 5 billion people can't access surgical care, a majority of the earth's population. Among those who can access surgical procedures, wait times before procedures are implemented can vary as much as 35%, according to one study.
One of the problems is that surgeons are trained much the way skilled craftsmen have been for generations: in intensive apprenticeships via hands-on education. But the shortcomings of that system are profound. Relying on one-on-one training to effect knowledge transfer means techniques and procedures tend to be taught inconsistently and without the benefit of a survey of best practices. Surgeons, likewise, tend to be poorly distributed. Further, knowledge tends to be siloed within subspecialties, with little opportunity for crossover education.
Video has emerged as a key training tool to address some of these disparities, and the newer possibility of AI-based video analysis has added a layer of utility to training regiments increasingly based in studying video.
"Intraoperative video footage, and by extension video-based analyses, is at the core of surgical innovation," explains Dr. Tamir Wolf, CEO and Co-founder of Theator. "Surgeons, medical systems, and forward-thinking professional societies have all come to realize its potential value in enhancing surgical care and patient safety."
Theator's AI-powered platform is based on smart annotation and video analytics technology, which extracts and annotates key moments from surgical procedures, enabling surgeons to review operations and glean detailed insights. By identifying the most pivotal surgical steps, events, milestones, and ultimately decisions, Theator's technology streamlines the pre-operative preparation and post-operative review and assessment process, significantly increasing surgeons' performance, efficiency, and productivity.
"Thanks to support from our new and existing investors, Theator is leveraging routine video capture and AI-based analyses of surgical data to build a surgical future where best practices are more widely understood, and surgical decision-making is democratized," explains Wolf.
Theator recently closed a $15.5M Series A round to scale its commercial operations and partnerships with U.S. providers, grow its R&D team, and cement its status as a provider of AI-powered Surgical Intelligence solutions. Theator has raised a total of $18.5 million to date.
Among its assets, Theator has amassed one of the largest surgical video datasets in the world: more than 400,000 minutes of curated surgical video encompassing over 80,000 intraoperative moments. Using its platform, Theator translates this video data into actionable feedback which surgeons can use to enhance performance.
While the idea of robot-assisted telesurgery has growing potential, in the shorter term greater access to surgery will be a result of more consistent spread of surgical knowledge. In that pursuit, tools like video and AI are emerging as particularly promising.