Healthcare is one of the industries that are currently at the forefront of technological innovation. More and more healthcare providers are now investing in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, robotic technology, machine learning, and chatbots.
The main goals driving the expansion of technology in medical contexts are delivering better care to patients, streamlining internal processes, improving staff productivity, and reducing costs.
One of the most exciting new areas of innovation is robotic and robot-assisted surgery. This technology holds great promise for patients by:
- reducing their pain and discomfort - so they can limit their pain medication intake;
- accelerating recovery time, especially when compared to traditional open surgery and laparoscopic procedures;
- lowering blood loss and transfusions, as the precise movements of robotic devices reduce the risk of surgical trauma;
- minimizing the risk of infection - as the procedure is minimally invasive.
It's also a very promising technology for doctors, offering them a greater degree of precision and accuracy, access to difficult areas, and a more comfortable working environment.
With so many benefits of robotic surgery, it's hard to believe that there are any disadvantages to the technology. However, just like every other innovation, robot-assisted surgery comes with its pros and cons. Read on to find out what they are.
What is robotic surgery?
Robotic surgery is a brand-new step in the evolution of minimally invasive and laparoscopic (small incision) surgical procedures. During robotic-assisted surgery, three or four robot arms are inserted into the patient via small incisions in the abdomen. One robotic arm operates the camera, two others serve as the surgeon's hands, and the fourth arm is used to move any obstructions found along the way.
However, robotic-assisted surgery doesn't rely entirely on robots. During the surgical procedure, patients are surrounded by a complete surgical team. The surgeon controls surgical instruments via a console and can fully supervise complex procedures on a 3D image of the surgical site. In fact, the surgeon's hands are placed in specialized devices that direct the instruments located at the ends of the robotic arms.
The da Vinci surgical system (by intuitive surgical), one of the most well-known robotic technologies, is already present in 1,700 hospitals across the globe, according to UC Health. Moreover, nearly 800 000 lives have been saved through robotic laparoscopic surgery. What's even more amazing is that the da Vinci system has been around since 2000, making it the first surgical robot that is commonly used in a laparoscopic procedure.
The robotic arm can filter out any tremors in the surgeon's hand. As a result, robotic surgical systems increase the range of motion with improved absolute positioning accuracy. This is especially important during delicate parts of surgical procedures. Robotic assistance enables surgeons to handle more complex tasks and difficult-to-access areas easily. Its applications range from oncological surgery through endoscopic surgery, cardiac surgery, and urologic surgery to surgery of the pelvic floor or morbid obesity.
Robotic surgery advantages
The advantages of robotic surgery include:
- Greater precision
- Access to difficult areas
- Greater performance
- Staff satisfaction
The most important advantage of robotic surgical systems is the accuracy and precision that comes with technology. And this brings many benefits for patients and doctors. For starters, thanks to the precision mechanisms of robotic arms, the machines incur tiny incisions into the body. As a result, patients experience fewer complications, decreased blood loss, and are able to recover faster. Smaller incisions usually cause less pain and scarring than conventional open surgery (which is traditional surgery with incisions).
What's in robotic surgery for doctors? First of all, the use of robotic arms in the operating room results in greater surgical precision. Thanks to the visualization of the surgical field and corrections applied to the surgeon's hand movements, robotic systems offer doctors greater accuracy at a lower effort.
Access to difficult areas
Robotic surgery not only increases the accuracy of surgical procedures but also allows surgeons to access the areas that are usually very hard to reach. Thanks to the small size of the surgical instruments, surgeons can now do a better job and have greater control over the entire operation.
Moreover, robotic surgery sets usually come with high definition equipment that enhances the visual abilities of surgeons. Equipped with a 3D view of the surgical field, surgeons can see everything much more clearly. Robotic surgery also offers surgeons and the surgical team tighter control over smaller and more precise instruments attached to the robot's arms - whose movement mimics the movement of the human wrist.
Robotics comes with precision and high reliability, but also optimal performance during surgical interventions. Such robotic equipment and systems can offer high performance even in conditions that human doctors might find difficult.
For example, robots can withstand large doses of radiation. Moreover, they never experience any fatigue or tremor. As a result, they can be applied to do their job over and over again. One surgical robot can be used to carry out one minimally invasive surgery after another continuously by simply rotating surgical teams.
It's no secret that the job of a general surgeon is a difficult one. Their long work hours often result in fatigue, and this might reduce their ability to focus. Imagine a surgeon working several hours without any breaks. It's easy to see how they might struggle to hold the scalpel firmly.
By implementing robotic surgery, healthcare providers can avoid putting such strain on their surgical teams. In some cases, they might even be able to completely eliminate it as surgeons perform robotic-assisted surgery while sitting down - or even remotely - as part of telepresence surgery. This means that they can work longer hours without getting tired, lowering the risk factors caused by fatigue during surgical operations.
Robotic surgery disadvantages
The key disadvantages of robotic surgery are:
- The cost
- Latency in movement
- Steep learning curve
- Potential mistakes
Robotic surgery is very costly; there's no doubt about it. This type of surgical technology system can increase the cost of a surgical procedure because surgical robots are expensive to buy and maintain. Moreover, their operation will require additional training, which is expensive as well. In general, surgery utilizing robots might cost between $3000 and $6000 more than a traditional procedure.
Latency in movement
One of the greatest issues with robotic surgery lies in the area of movement latency. This refers to the time it takes for the robot to carry out the surgeon's commands. Naturally, the computer needs a few moments to communicate with robotic arms. This might not be an issue for routine surgery, but if the surgeon needs to respond quickly to problems occurring during, for example, robotic cardiac surgery, it might become problematic.
Steep learning curve
The manufacturers of robotic surgical equipment provide sufficient training to enable surgical teams to use this new technology. However, this is still quite demanding. The learning curve for surgeons who adopt such systems might be too long to justify the gains of implementing the technology. Some experts point to the lack of studies indicating improvements in the long-term results of implementing robotic surgery.
Surgeons who use a robot during a surgical operation don't get the tactile feedback that comes from cutting into a patient's tissue directly. This increases the risk of injury resulting from hitting adjacent organs. Since robots are machines, they might cause burns from the electric current as well.
Robotic surgery - Conclusion
There's no denying that robotic surgery is on the rise, thanks to the many advantages it brings. It allows surgeons to see the surgical field magnified in 3D to improve their vision. Moreover, the robot's hands can reach into tighter spots and move in ways that might be impossible for humans. Finally, correcting the surgeon's hand tremors is another critical advantage of robots that reduces the fatigue of doctors who get to sit by the control console instead of standing over the patient for many hours.
Such minimally invasive surgery usually results in lower blood loss and faster recovery. All in all, healthcare providers are going to weigh the pros and cons carefully to understand whether the benefits of robotic surgery outweigh its drawbacks. But we're bound to see more and more robots used in healthcare thanks to the gradual reduction of production costs and training.
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