As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports doctor, I am acutely aware of new modalities that can be used in this industry. Not only is this my passion, but I also believe that keeping track of these emerging technologies is vital for orthopedic growth and is a service that we should provide for our patients.
Emerging technologies are able to propel our society forward in unimaginable ways. There are some primary emerging technologies to look out for in orthopedics, including 3D printing or additive manufacturing, robotics and AR/VR, AI, and genetic engineering, and they are shaking up orthopedics, much like the rest of the healthcare industry, in a big way.
What are Emerging Technologies?
In any field, emerging technologies (ETs) are technologies that have both practical and innovative applications. For the most part, ETs are considered to have an exponential effect because their development and practical applications are unrealized. They are considered ETs still because the effect that they will have is known to be greater and progressive.
ETs also largely represent a technology that is coming from a competitive field, which means that it is solving or contributing to a very complex solution. Some examples of emerging technologies outside of healthcare are the application of AI within business operations and online functioning.
When we consider ETs, know that they are usually referring to the development of a technology that is still ongoing. So while there is a name for that technology, the application is largely new and nuanced. We can’t say for certain how the application of an ET will be performed so much of the terminology around the product is generalized and vague, even if the science is extremely precise.
How Emerging Technologies are Useful
ETs are extremely useful and will move our society forward. Without the ongoing development of ETs, our society would stagnate and would instead be forced to reuse old technologies for new problems. It really wouldn’t work. Therefore, ETs have to exist and will continue to be brought into creation by genius engineers, developers, and creators.
ETs are clearly one of the most useful innovations of our time. Once an ET is brought into fruition, then researchers, research institutes, organizations, and even private businesses can contribute to that ET development in a unique way.
Sometimes ETs are kept hidden, like OpenAI’s GPT-3 patent, which is a reading and writing AI that has been kept hidden from the public. However, once that product is provided for the people, and usually, the idea behind that product is also provided, then others can build from it and increase the demand for that ET.
Emerging Technologies in Orthopaedics
As mentioned above, ETs in orthopedics exist, and they are slowly being implemented into the industry. Here are the top four:
1. 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing
3D printing is one of the most widely recognized forms of ET in orthopedics today. This is because of the miraculous ability for researchers to print customized 3D parts such as human ligaments and human organs.
The usefulness of 3D printing is groundbreaking, and their application into the medical industry, by means of printing organic tissues, has completely changed the game on organ replacement potentials as well as orthopedic surgeries for torn ligaments and knee replacements.
While additive manufacturing will progress, we’ll start to see organic materials being used more effectively so that the parts that are printed will be better received by our bodies. This will virtually eliminate the body rejecting parts. This technology will also take a page from genetics by including parts of our unique biology into the equation so that the part is customized and a better match for our bodies.
2. Robotics and VR/AR Assistance
Robotics is also a significant player in ETs for orthopedics. Robotics sound like little robots zooming around the surgical ward, but in actuality, we’re looking at robotic-assisted surgeries. These special mechanics are already being used in major manufacturing sectors, and their technology is actually very precise. Therefore, by implementing robotics into the surgery process, we will see more precise modalities, better surgeries, faster surgeries, less pain, and a quicker recovery.
I believe that there is an inevitable future where surgeons will not be in the surgical room with the patient and instead will be operating in a VR-like setting and controlling a robotic arm to conduct the surgery.
Oh, let’s talk about VR and AR too, also known as virtual reality and augmented reality. They are real-like technological settings that allow surgeons to better prepare and understand the surgical procedures that they will be conducting. Not only will this contribute to smarter robotics down the line, but it will also give surgeons a better understanding of the surgery, how the surgery will affect the individual and a better chance at improving beyond the normal surgical expectations.
AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is right now the world’s next biggest technology. AI is used in everyday life at present, and it is often used in ways that we hadn’t even considered!
Machine learning has finally reached a point where it can be applied in more and more settings. For example, machine learning can take inputs provided and, in return, give a well-thought-out and well-written output. Machine learning doesn’t just regurgitate, it also learns from the data points that it is provided, so there is less manipulation needed to make it work (which can actually be taxing to the individual working with it) and it can simplify many mundane processes.
AI-assisted diagnostics will allow for a patient’s assessment to be carried out largely with the help of AI. With precision diagnostics and more personalized health care, we will have fewer patients being misdiagnosed (which can also become problematic if this leads to them not trusting medical professionals). We might also be able to bring smart, personalized health care into a patient’s home by use of AI in apps and through online interactions.
4. Genetic Engineering
Genetic engineering is absolutely making a splash as an ET for orthopedics. As mentioned above, genetic engineering is being applied in 3D printing organic materials so that the application of that material will be better received by the body.
Genetics is also playing a role in personalized medicine. Orthopedic doctors can look at a patient’s genetics to tell them if they are expected to have life-long issues, or if the issue is treatable. This allows us to better care for our patients and provides better outcome expectations if modalities or interventions are needed.
Preparing for Emerging Technologies in the Field
Orthos need to work with patients, academic surgeons, and academic researchers in order to find the best-case scenario when it comes to implementing these ETs into our everyday practices. And patients need to be prepared for these ETs. Now, this does not mean that once we as doctors are happy with the ETs, we then force it down our patient’s throats.
Our patients expect to be educated on the new technologies that we are bringing into the field. We cannot force them into uncomfortable situations, and instead, we need to welcome them into it by educating and training them on ETs as they are introduced.
Patient education is just as important as orthopedic preparation!