The next endemic likely to affect India is the increasing incidence and prevalence of spine problems.
The next endemic likely to affect India is the increasing incidence and prevalence of spine problems. Ranked #1 for YLD (Years Lived with Disability) in Global Burden of Disease, a survey conducted since 1990 by the World Health Organization (WHO), low back pain and neck pain, are becoming an all-age problem, affecting almost all aspects of a person’s life – right from socializing to productivity loss at work to lack of sleep.
Spine degeneration starts as early as between the age of 20 to 25.
60% of Indian population suffers from spine ailments
Back pain is no longer an age-related problem. It is becoming a problem of lifestyle, affecting people of all ages – from youngsters to the elderly population.
Spine degeneration starts as early as between the age of 20 to 25. It is estimated that every fifth Indian youngster (under the age bracket 20 -30) is suffering from some sort of spine ailment.
Increased usage of smartphones and laptops has augmented the sedentariness in lifestyle, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the masses were forced to operate indoors for a prolonged time.
Dr. DV Sharma, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, posits that “ Work from home and online classes is the latest culprit increasing the incidence of back and neck among the Indian population.”
Back pain – a ‘ tough nut to crack ‘
Narrowing down the root cause of back pain is a tough nut to crack for two reasons:
* Spine problems can be the result of a single problem or a combination of problems
* Lack of consistent diagnostic and treatment protocols for spine-related issues
Also, pain is a subjective experience. Consider two people with the same condition, say spinal stenosis – while one might feel the pain to be mild, the other might feel the pain to be severe. Some spine ailments, for instance – disc herniation, are mostly asymptomatic till the condition worsens, making it hard for physicians/radiologists to diagnose spine problems at an early stage.
AI in radiology
The shortage of radiologists is rising at an alarming rate and is one of the biggest challenges affecting the performance of healthcare institutions. Nearly 30k – 50K imaging facilities are currently operating in the sub-continent. But the radiology population is less than 10K. All of which lead to increased diagnostic errors and overworked radiologists. Despite the evolution of healthcare technology, the healthcare industry is still struggling to curtail medical errors. Over 5.2 million medical errors are recorded in India every year.
Communication gaps, missed diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, poor information flow are some of the primary reasons that trigger medical errors and also play a major role in medical malpractice in India. AI-powered radiology can help healthcare institutions worldwide deal with the increasing shortage of radiologists, let alone India. AI can also aid in minimizing medical errors and malpractices, while improving clinical communication and information flow. Many healthtech firms are investing heavily in AI for better radiology. Nearly 94% of Indian healthcare leaders are thinking of investing in AI innovations.
AI for spine problems
Since spine problems are a constellation of symptoms, it requires more time and effort to identify the root cause of the problem. Given the dismal shortage of radiologists and the constantly increasing imaging procedures, radiologists are pressed to work on a case within a tight timeframe. On an average, radiologists are able to spend only 3-4 seconds on an image, which naturally increases the probability of missing out or overlooking details that might be of critical value for treatment or surgical planning. Quick and thorough analysis of an image, without missing out on details, requires a greater potential. It requires intelligence that mimics human intelligence and can outperform human potential in mundane tasks. This is where AI comes into the picture.
Already under the experimental phase and commercially used for some pathologies, AI is proving to be instrumental in diagnosing and generating objective reports for spine ailments.
AI assistant for spine MRIs
AI can not only help in medical imaging analysis but also in recording the findings with objectivity. Already under the experimental phase and commercially used for some pathologies, AI is proving to be instrumental in diagnosing and generating objective reports for spine ailments. For instance, Spindle – an AI-powered smart assistant for spine MRIs, can automatically identify and report age-related degenerative pathologies from MRI scans of the spine. This significantly reduces clinical reporting workload as degenerative abnormalities are present in almost all spine MRI scans.
AI assistant for stress motion x-rays of the spine
Not just MRIs, AI algorithms are currently trained for almost all types of radiology exams – say, CT scans, motion x-rays, etc. SpindleX, for instance, is an AI assistant for stress motion X-rays of the spine that can help in grading the severity of loss of motion segment integrity, measuring baseline angles and abnormal translation/rotation motion of spine segments.
Using SpindleX, radiologists can carefully study a wide range of traumatic injuries in spinal ligaments and create objective reports in just a click. After X-rays, artificial intelligence is the next biggest breakthrough in radiology. With the healthcare industry becoming increasingly dependent on medical images and spine problems growing into a socio-economic problem, AI is likely the last hope for healthcare institutions to provide better patient care. Particularly in India, where 68% of the total population lives in rural areas, AI can improve access to healthcare and imaging facilities, so much so that even the resource-poor regions will have a chance at better patient care.
Composed by: “An alumni of IIM, Ahmedabad, Meenakshi Singh, has profound experience in building data analytics solutions for various industries. Hailing from a computer science background, Meenakshi has worked with some of the most reputed industry players like Google, LoanIQ, Manhattan associates and Goldman Sachs. Currently associated with Synapsica as the CEO, Meenakshi leads efforts for clinical validation and international regulatory compliance of Synapsica products and is also responsible for fundraising and marketing.”