Integrating Wearable Technology in the Operating Room

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A recent study in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine reveals that researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Arizona have collaborated to explore the use of wearable technology in monitoring surgeons’ posture during lengthy surgical procedures. The aim is to reduce the strain caused by maintaining fixed positions for extended periods.

The preliminary research examined the feasibility of employing wearable devices to track neurosurgeons’ posture during lengthy spine and cranial surgeries. The results suggest that wearable technology is an effective and consistent method for offering objective feedback that can improve postural awareness and assist in making posture adjustments to prevent musculoskeletal issues among surgeons.

Wearable technology can pinpoint instances of poor posture, enabling timely corrections.

Dr. Alejandro Zulbaran-Roja, Study First Author and Research Associate, Michael E DeBakey Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine

Despite the awareness among neurosurgeons of the risks associated with fixed postures, the means to quantify their posture have been inadequate. The current study utilized wearable sensors to measure upper body stiffness in neurosurgeons when they leaned forward or backward.

Ten neurosurgeons – five attending physicians and five trainees – were selected for the study, each equipped with two wearable sensors attached to their upper back and the back of their heads. During spinal and cranial procedures, these sensors recorded the duration spent in extended, neutral, and flexed postures.

The researchers successfully gathered and evaluated 16 out of 20 potential recordings from 11 surgeries (eight spinal, three cranial).

We observed that surgeons maintained a static posture for around 52.1% (38 minutes) and 53.2% (77.6 minutes) of the total operation time during spine and cranial procedures, respectively. This is concerning given the American College of Surgeons’ recommendation to avoid prolonged static postures by taking short breaks every 30 minutes for stretching activities,” Zulbaran commented.

Moreover, the study noted that taller neurosurgeons tended to remain in extended and flexed positions for longer durations during cranial surgeries.

Zulbaran suggested, “Objective feedback can assist surgeons in adjusting their posture relative to the height of the table to enhance ergonomics, their interaction with surgical equipment, particularly in procedures involving frequent position changes (such as transitioning from standing to sitting), and tailoring interventions based on specific surgeries and experience levels.

He further highlighted, “While maintaining a perfectly straight posture may seem instinctive, surgical procedures often necessitate various body positions to access different anatomical structures effectively. Wearable technology offers real-time awareness of static postures that are not always apparent. Detecting improper movement patterns early in a surgeon’s career can help them correct their posture and prevent long-term injuries.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Bijan Najafi, a professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, added, “The implications of our findings are significant for surgical practice and training. Monitoring surgeons’ posture using wearable technology presents a proactive approach to preventing musculoskeletal disorders like back and neck pain. This could lead to better health and performance among surgeons, potentially extending their careers. Additionally, personalized training programs based on wearable data could revolutionize surgical education, providing new surgeons with the tools to adopt optimal postural practices from the beginning of their careers.

Further research is needed to evaluate the application of this wearable technology in other medical specialties.

Other contributors to the study include Mohammad D. Rouzi, Mohsen Zahiri, Abderrahman Ouattas, Christina M. Walter, Hung Nguyen, Sanam Bidadi, and G. Michael Lemole from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

The research received partial funding from Baylor College of Medicine and the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP). Additional support was provided by the National Institute on Aging under grant number R44-AG061951-02.

Journal Reference:

Zulbaran-Rojas, A., et. al. (2024) Objective assessment of postural ergonomics in neurosurgery: integrating wearable technology in the operating room. Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. doi:10.3171/2024.1.SPINE231001


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