A recent study suggests that the US is facing a cumulative backlog of more than a million joint and bone surgery cases by mid-2022 (Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery). So what options are open to hospitals to deal with the crisis? 

It’s no secret that COVID-19 wreaked havoc with surgical capacity in many hospitals across the country, leading to the cancellation or deferral of millions of elective procedures and resulting in a significant backlog of surgeries. It has left hospital systems across the US wondering how they can quickly and safely increase operating room throughput to reverse the backlog.

There is, of course, no silver bullet for solving the problem of backlogs other than the totally unrealistic approach of throwing $millions at new theater, additional staff and all the resources required to support surgical care.

Rather, it is down to myriad steps that together can increase operating room throughput. Among options that have been suggested are:

  • Increasing operating room efficiency by making process changes 
  • Minimizing the size of surgical teams, while ensuring patient care is not compromised
  • Pre-operative and post-operative debriefings to deliver continuous improvement
  • Creative theater scheduling 
  • Decreasing theater turnover times

But there is another innovative solution that is helping to increase operating room throughput, and that is the use of patient-specific 3D anatomical modeling for surgical planning.

From “new fangled” to highly valued

Once labelled as a “new fangled” technology reserved for healthcare hobbyists, 3D modelling has fast become recognized as a highly valuable tool with a number of game-changing applications in healthcare. An increasing number of surgical teams are reaping the benefits of the advanced insights and precision accuracy they can gain from 3D replicas of their patient’s anatomy – created from their existing CT and MRI scans.

But, how can 3D modeling specifically help to increase operating room throughput?

Planning for complex surgical cases, such as upper limb trauma and deformities, typically takes longer and requires more resources than planning for standard surgical interventions, to ensure an accurate procedural plan can be created before proceeding with surgery. 

For complex cases, 2D images alone do not fully convey the necessary precision and insight for physicians to confidently plan a procedure. There is the potential for a lack of clarity among surgical teams and longer OR times, resulting in higher costs to the healthcare provider and heightened risks for the patient. 

Above: 3D imaging removes ambiguity from analyzing the patient’s 2D images.

Conversely, 3D virtual and 3D printed models of patient anatomy help physician to quickly and clearly understand the patient’s condition before surgery while supporting enhanced intra-team and patient communication. Ultimately, 3D modeling helps physicians to make faster decisions with much greater confidence to help them perform safer, often faster and certainly cheaper procedures with reduced risk of complications. 

A 2020 study found that physicians using 3D modeling to plan orthopedic and maxillofacial procedures typically see 62 minutes of time saved on average per case (or $3720 per case saved from reduced time).

Considering that orthopedic physicians typically perform an average of 32 procedures each month, there is the potential for a physicians to save 33 hours per month (or $119,040) – money that could be reinvested into completing additional procedures and tackling the backlog of cases.

Aiding patient consent

In addition to time saving in the OR, 3D modeling has been found to be incredibly effective in supporting physicians during patient (and family) consent discussions. An analysis of published studies and feedback from physicians shows that patients and their families in 98% of cases felt much better informed on their condition and treatment path through the use of 3D modeling. Ultimately, having a physical, complex model available makes the explanation of the patient’s condition as well as the intended surgical procedure much simpler for patients and family to understand. This could be a game-changer for safely improving patient conversion rates while obtaining fully informed consent.

As more physicians discover the power of 3D modeling to help in the planning of complex surgeries it is inevitable that it will become a standard tool used in the patient care pathway in 2021 and beyond. That will bring multiple benefits, not least in enhancing the efficiency of planning and carrying out complex surgeries and helping to increase operating room throughput.

If you’re curious about how 3D modeling could support your surgical team, why not order a 3D printed model of your next complex orthopedic case to plan and practice your approach? 

Request your free model here and one of our service specialists will be in touch within 1–2 working days to start the process that will quickly put a 3D model into your hands.

Up Next: Discover how 3D modeling is transforming patient understanding and consent of complex orthopedic pathologies across the US in this short blog.


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Alejandra Posso
Alejandra Posso
Marketing Assistant