Surgeons' intuition is often correct, but technology is better, study says

Surgeon intuition is often right, but when compared to a standard risk calculator used to estimate complications post-surgery, technology still wins, a new study found.

Led by researchers from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the study set out to understand "whether a physician's intuition, including their training and past experiences, could be used in risk prediction similar to a standardized surgical risk calculator developed by the American College of Surgeons," according to a Feb. 23 press release. 

Researchers created an algorithm that quantified surgeon preoperative intuition alone and asked surgeons to predict the possibility of negative outcomes for 216 patients. They compared the findings to two separate models: one that only used the risk calculator and one that took both surgeon intuition and calculator predictions into account. 

They found that "surgeon intuition in predicting any complication was less accurate than the ACS NSQIP risk calculator," and also "a combined model using both surgeon intuition and the NSQIP risk calculator did not do better." 

However, researchers did discover that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the intuition of surgeons who have been in their careers longer was much more accurate than newer surgeons. 

"The value of surgical intuition for preoperative prediction was not improved by including human intuition in the model and this suggests that, at least for most presurgical prediction, the information that is gathered by the NSQIP Risk Calculator is better at predicting those outcomes than the gut feeling that surgeons have when looking at patients," author of the research Gabriel Brat, MD, a trauma surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, said in a press statement.

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