Big data is a popular buzzword that keeps appearing in nearly every industry, even medicine. But until now, it hasn’t really made its way into the wide and varied world of surgical procedures.
Recent advances in technology have changed the way surgeons collect information, determine that a patient needs surgery and even the way these procedures are performed.
Here are three ways surgical procedures are benefiting from the adoption of big data in the medical industry.
1. Biliary Tract Cancer Surgery
Biliary tract cancer, or cancer of the bile ducts, is diagnosed in around 8,000 people in the United States every year, with higher occurrences appearing in Southeast Asia due to a parasitic infection that is common in the area. Traditionally, the five-year survival rates for this cancer depend heavily on the location and type of biliary tract cancer, but they don’t generally rise above 30%.
A new phase 3 clinical trial recently completed and presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology may have completely changed the way this type of cancer could be treated in the future. Using an already established drug known as capecitabine, researchers were able to improve median survivability by more than 15 months post-surgery.
Big data is essential for the dissemination of this kind of discovery. Networked servers can get this potentially lifesaving information out there without needing to wait for traditional information-sharing methods like publishing or presentation to scientific societies.
2. Surgery Information Gathering
Millions of surgeries, both inpatient and outpatient, happen every single year. Big data is allowing doctors around the world to create a database of all surgical procedures being performed, as well as their success or failure rates, and any updates or changes to procedure. This database can be updated in real-time to help improve the efficiency of these procedures and potentially save or improve lives as new techniques are discovered or perfected.
A database like this is already in place in Japan, spanning nearly 5,000 hospitals. The databases were established in response to a number of deaths that were directly related to liver surgeries. By collecting all of the information about these surgeries in one place, Japanese researchers were able to find the best way to improve their procedures and increase the survivability of the procedures.
This information could also be used to reduce surgical complications. Research has discovered that around five percent of patients experienced some form of complication after an arthroscopic wrist procedure. With this new form of surgery information gathering, doctors and surgeons could potentially reduce this number to less than 1%.
3. Early Detection of Operable Health Problems
The biggest component that determines the survivability of many of conditions is how early the condition is detected. While traditional detection methods are useful for early detection, they rely on the information the patient provides, and in almost all cases, they can only detect an operable condition after it has already become established in the patient’s body. There are some conditions, like breast cancer, that can be preemptively treated based on the presence of a gene mutation, but that is a very limited type of testing.
By using big data to look at patients through their electronic health records and applying predictive algorithms to that data, researchers and physicians can predict with a relative amount of certainty the kind of conditions that a person might be at risk for. The more data that can be collected, the more accurate the predictions can be.
Of course, this use of big data isn’t going to be able to predict every case of cancer or other operable conditions. However, it can be used to predict the patients who might be at risk for these conditions so they can be detected early, before they become a problem, and dealt with.
As more data is collected, big data will start to become an integral part of the medical community. It’s not the solution to every problem, but it could be a fantastic tool to help save lives, improve surgery techniques and even change the way we treat existing conditions.