Using AI and Open Science to improve spinal care | The Neuro

In 2015, a doctor at The Neuro wanted to find a solution to the problem of long wait times for spinal surgery. With his brother Paul, neurosurgeon Dr. Carlo Santaguida founded CareAxis, a non-profit organization that helps physiotherapists in clinics across Quebec assess patients for surgery, reducing the number of people on waitlists for surgeries they do not need.  

Now, in partnership with The Neuro, CareAxis is going one step further to improve patient care by collecting data that will be shared with The Neuro’s Open Biobank. With these data, researchers around the world can help develop the latest generation of spinal treatments and technologies.  

A new era of AI-driven healthcare 

The advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) has created many opportunities to improve the care provided to patients with neurological problems. Machine learning can find patterns in data that human researchers alone could not, allowing them to predict disease progression and what intervention might work best. However, the use of AI in spine health research has been limited by lack of sufficient data sets to effectively train machine learning models. This limitation has hindered the translation of research into innovative, AI-based health services and technologies. 

With patient consent, clinicians at The Neuro and CareAxis will collect patient-reported outcome measures, clinical diagnostic evaluations, and medical imaging generated during care delivery. Data collection will occur at least three times during care delivery, allowing the collection of longitudinal data without overburdening patients. The data will then be stored and integrated in the Open Biobank, providing access to world-leading scientists who are developing the next generation of healthcare delivery.  

Data with multiple applications 

Once shared through the Open Biobank, the data collected will have the potential to improve patient lives in a number of ways. AI-driven healthcare can improve the safety and quality of clinical assessment. AI has already been used successfully in diagnostic support tools in radiology, pathology, and ophthalmology.  

By learning from patient self-management data, AI can deliver effective, evidence-based advice on physical activity, tailoring exercise training according to personal goals, characteristics, symptom progress, and functional ability. 

AI-based applications can also have a major impact on spine surgery, especially outcome prediction. Combining imaging databases from The Neuro with data from CareAxis will help improve the prediction of post-operative disability, medical complications, hospital readmission, and return to work, empowering surgeons and patients to make more informed treatment decisions.  

“Our efforts to streamline outpatient spine care continues to have significant impact in patient’s lives by reversing disability and improving wait times,” says Dr. Santaguida. “The longitudinal data in the Open Biobank will permit AI analysis that will propel us into the next generation of outpatient spine care; patient candidacy for surgery will no longer be a yes or no question, we will predict actual surgical outcomes to guide shared decision making between clinicians and patients.” 

Philanthropy driving innovation in healthcare 

The Neuro-CareAxis initiative was launched with the support of the Mirella and Lino Saputo Foundation. Since then, thousands of patients have been removed from surgical waitlists and received the urgent care they needed. This latest expansion of the program into AI is once again being fueled by the support of the foundation. 

“The Mirella and Lino Saputo Foundation is proud to support The Neuro-CareAxis program,” says Francesco Miele, the foundation’s Vice-Président directeur. “In just a few short years, it has helped thousands of seniors in Quebec have better healthcare outcomes, allowing patients to receive the care they need sooner. We are thrilled with this innovative program’s success and hope it will act as a model for other institutions. 


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