It’s no secret that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with surgical capacity in many hospitals across the country in 2020, leading to the cancellation or deferral of millions of elective procedures and resulting in a significant backlog of orthopedic surgeries, and leaving many hospital systems across the US wondering how they can quickly and safely increase operating room throughput to reverse the mounting backlog.

To compound this problem, hospitals are facing additional challenges to ensure they are set up to operate in a COVID-19-secure way, such as enhancing sanitation measures and increased reserved inpatient bed capacity, which is utilizing additional resources and limiting hospital efficiency – further contributing to the backlog. 

In this July 2020 study, McKinsey surveyed the top 25 hospital systems – representing a quarter of all hospital beds in the United States – on the impact of decreased surgical care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, these hospital systems reported a 35% decrease in surgical volumes from March 2020 to July 2020 and projected a 20% decrease in operating room volumes for the remainder of the year, equivalent to around 2.5 months of historical volume. There is no reason to believe that the situation in many hospitals round the country is going to be any better for the first few months of 2021.

How has orthopedic surgery been affected by COVID-19?

Looking at orthopedics more specifically, this May 2020 study of orthopedic surgery volumes by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery suggests that the US is facing a cumulative backlog of more than a million joint and spine surgery cases by mid-2022, which will require up to 16 months to work through.

While this does make for stark reading, and with few established ways of reducing the growing backlog of cases delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one innovative new solution to increase operating room throughput is the use of 3D anatomical modeling for surgical planning.

3D modeling, once a “new fangled” technology reserved for healthcare hobbyists, has fast become a recognized solution with an increasing number of game-changing applications in healthcare, for example, with an increasing number of surgical teams reaping the benefits of the advanced insights and precision accuracy from 3D replicas of their patient’s anatomy – created from their existing CT and MRI scans.

Above: The journey from 2D to 3D, showing a patient’s 2D images being prepared for being transformed into 3D virtual and printed models

“Okay, great.” I hear you say, “But, how will 3D modeling help to increase operating room throughput & reduce the backlog of orthopedic surgeries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?”

I’m glad you asked. With a backlog of thousands of cases now building up each day across the country, the amount of planning time and capacity needed to tackle the backlog of cases grows exponentially. Additionally, planning for complex cases typically takes longer and requires more resources to ensure an accurate decision can be reached before proceeding with surgery. 

Surgeons working on complex cases, and their patients, are set to be among the main beneficiaries of the introduction of 3D modeling in orthopedic surgery planning. Too often for complex cases, 2D images alone do not fully convey the necessary precision and insight for surgeons to confidently plan a procedure. This has the potential to cause longer OR times, a lack of clarity among surgical teams, 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 surgeons to quickly and clearly understand the patient’s condition before surgery while supporting enhanced intra-team and patient communication. Ultimately, 3D modeling helps surgeons to make faster decisions with much greater confidence to help them perform safer, often faster and certainly cheaper procedures with reduced risk of complications.

This August 2020 study found that surgeons 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 surgeons typically perform an average of 32 orthopedic procedures each month, there’s potential for a typical surgeon to save 33 hours per month (or $119,040) that could be reinvested into completing additional procedures and enable them to truly tackle the backlog of cases.

In addition to time saving in the OR, 3D modeling has been found to be incredibly effective in supporting surgeons during patient (and family) consent discussions. Patients and their families are 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 to patients and family much simpler and easier to understand. This could be a game-changer for safely improving patient conversion rates while obtaining fully informed consent.

With growing case backlogs across all specialties – health systems, surgeons and patients, stand to benefit from 3D modeling being used in the patient care pathway in 2021 and beyond. 

If you’re curious about how 3D modeling could support you to increase operating room throughput, 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 your free order. 


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Alejandra Posso
Alejandra Posso
Marketing Assistant