Although the term "virtual surgery" sounds like science fiction, it is an increasingly common practice in many fields of medicine, to plan with guarantees from the most complex to the "most routine" surgical operations.
A virtual surgery is nothing more than a computer simulation of the surgical procedure to be performed in the operating room. The aim of this technology is to allow the surgeon to safely practice the operation before it is reproduced on the patient and there is no turning back.
Virtual operations are normally performed on three-dimensional models of the patient, generated from computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, giving surgeons the possibility, using virtual tools, to manipulate the 3D model of the patient just as they would during real surgery, with the difference and great advantage that they can perform as many operations as they want, until they find the best option for the patient.
Worldwide, around 7 million nasal surgeries are performed every year, of which between 40%-50% do not achieve the expected results. This situation not only represents billions in losses for the world's healthcare systems, but also leads to a considerable reduction in the quality of life of more than 3.5 million people.
In this context, virtual surgery takes on a decisive role in the treatment of pathologies related to nasal obstruction, helping the ENT specialist to plan nasal surgery in detail and with guarantees.
The most recurrent cases in which specialists make use of virtual surgery to treat pathologies related to nose blockage are:
- In patients showing signs of nasal obstruction caused by anatomical alterations that are candidates for surgery. Deviations of the nasal septum or an exaggerated and irreversible growth of the turbinates would be some of the main indications for virtual surgery.
- In patients who present anatomical alterations inside the nostrils that do not cause physical obstruction, but do cause a functional problem. Patients with nasal septal perforations or those with empty nose syndrome would be an example.
Virtual surgery and CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) studies. The perfect combination.
Nowadays there are tools on the market that allow combining virtual surgery techniques and CFD studies of the behavior of the air inside the patient's nose. This combination takes the surgeon one step further, allowing him to predict the surgical results before performing the real surgery.
Three-dimensional models of the "operated" and the "non-operated" patient are subjected to CFD analysis to obtain scientific data on how the airflow inside the patient's nose is. In this way it can be evaluated which of the surgical options applied virtually will provide the best functional results and taken to the surgical practice.
Benefits of virtual surgery in the ENT field.
Surgical planning of nasal pathologies by means of virtual surgery combined with CFD studies represents a giant step forward in the improvement of surgical results.
These are the main advantages offered by virtual surgery:
- The specialist has the possibility of evaluating the airflow problem presented by the patient before performing real surgery. It is also possible to visualize where the most problematic areas of the nasal cavity are located and act accordingly.
- It is possible to perform several types of virtual surgery on the same patient to evaluate the effects of each type of surgery. This helps the surgeon greatly in choosing the best and least aggressive solution before proceeding with the actual surgery.
- Once it has been determined which areas need to be corrected, and how, the "virtual" plan can be transferred to the real surgery.
- The error rate is considerably reduced as surgeons can train for the worst-case scenario by simulating complications during virtual surgery. In addition, specialists can also gauge their ability to perform the procedure before a possibly incapable physician harms the patient. The zero-risk training received through virtual surgery helps prevent cases of negligence and surgical accidents.
In an ENT context in which 50% of nasal surgeries do not achieve the desired results, it is essential to develop and encourage new disruptive technologies in order to facilitate the work of the medical specialists, guarantee good results and consequently improve the life quality of millions of people in the world who suffer from some type of nasal obstruction.