The Future of Healthcare How Surgical Robots are Changing the Medical Landscape

The field of medicine is often where you see the most exciting news of innovations sprout from. From the invention of penicillin to the development of key vaccines, medicinal advancements have been at the forefront of new developments which help shape our daily lives for the better.

With our growing advanced technological capabilities, it’s no surprise that the next step for medicine is to find where technology and healthcare intersect. Today, that has taken the form of surgical robots, which have greatly changed how people experience their various medical procedures at a fraction of the time, risk, and even cost.

History of Surgical Robotics

Surgical robots, despite sounding relatively novel, have been in development for decades now. While robotics has been around in manufacturing since the early 1950s, the concept of surgical robotics only hit actual wide usage during the 1990s when Integrated Surgical Solutions, Inc. and IBM developed their first ROBODOC.

The path to even greater adoption of the technologies occurred in 2001 during what was known as the Lindbergh Surgery when two surgeons performed a remote gallbladder removal surgery in New York while their patient was all the way in France.

This concept, known as “telesurgery”, was made possible by advanced robotics that combined laparoscopic techniques with the miniature armature to allow surgeons the dexterity and agility that came with performing the task in person.

Today, telesurgery and surgical robotics as a whole has opened a whole new avenue for patients and doctors to receive and provide care wherever and whenever they may be. Moreover, the advancement of current technologies has allowed people better access to care that would normally have been too complex to pull off.

Surgical Robots Today

Currently, the most widely used surgical robotics system is the da Vinci system, developed by Intuitive Surgical, a company that specializes in and markets clinical robotics. Utilizing different advanced armature robotics, the da Vinci system is best described as allowing surgeons to perform “minimally invasive surgery”. The surgeons are still the ones in charge of utilizing and performing the surgery on the robotics system, but the robot allows them greater precision, movement, and visibility that was once not feasible in a standard surgical operation.

Some other technologies exist as well, including the AESOP system, or Automated Endoscopic System for Optimal Positioning. This robot was developed to allow the holding of an endoscope, with an adjustable steady view that was voice-controlled for hands-free operation of the device.

Yet even more advancements are on the horizon. Biomedical Engineer Alain Vanquaethem, with French company SpineGuard, had developed a surgical guidance system that allows for better sensing of robotic placements for bone implants.

How Surgical Robots Save Both Time and Costs

It’s understandable that some patients may be apprehensive about undergoing a procedure done via a robotic interface, especially when you’re likely paying for the expertise of the surgeon in charge of your case. Yet it’s important to note that surgical procedures utilizing surgical robots don’t take away power and agency from your surgeon, but rather enhance it.

The advent of surgical robotics has paved the way for better and more efficient means of delivering care in a non-invasive way. As such, the usage of surgical robotics has been seen in many different therapeutic areas, such as urology, orthopedics, neurology, oncology, and more.

Allows for Better Medicinal Control

One of the strongest arguments for surgical robots is their ability to allow for better control of the surgical operation. As these are still largely human procedures, surgeries are still liable for human error and variability. The most skilled surgeon will likely be able to care for you, but complications can occur here and there that make each surgery different.

The revolution that surgical robots have provided is the possibility for non-invasive procedures, which uses a combination of cameras and miniature armature to perform the surgery without having to perform what is known as an “open surgery”. This saves time and effort on the surgeon's part, as well as long-term costs on pre and post-surgery management.

Improved Recovery Time

With the possibility of non-invasive surgeries being more prevalent, patients also have the advantage of being able to recover faster, reaching their desired quality of life post-surgery in a much quicker timeline.

In a study published in JAMA, the usage of robotic surgeries reduced the chance of readmission by half, or about 52%, with less chance for blood clots in the future. This puts less strain on both public and private-funded healthcare systems and allows for more resources to be freed up for subsequent treatments.

Reduced Risk for Additional Side Effects/Complications

Based on the research conducted in the recently mentioned JAMA paper, the utilization of surgical robots also have the benefit of reducing the overall risk that comes with surgical procedures. In lieu of going with an “open surgery”, which works by making large incisions on the skin to access the problem area, surgical robotics allows surgeons to guide non-invasive instruments through remote-controlled cameras and advanced optics.

The patient will likely experience these same benefits as well, with overall reduced pain and discomfort due to the non-invasive nature of the procedure. Risk is also reduced due to the greatly lowered blood loss and transfusion requirements, which help lower risks of infection and even scarring.

Key Takeaways

Surgical robotics is a fascinating example of the latest integration of technologies and healthcare in a system that aims to further elevate the care being received by any individual.

  • Historically, surgical robots have been around since the 1990s, starting with the ROBODOC and getting a successful proof-of-concept launch with the Lindbergh Surgery.
  • Today, Intuitive’s da Vinci system is one of the most commonly used surgical robotics alongside other robots like AESOP. More advancements are likely to follow based on the current trajectory of technological advancements.
  • Surgical robots save time and costs in healthcare through the enabling of better medicinal control, improved recovery time, and reduced surgical risks/complications.
  • More innovations are on the horizon, and the proliferation and continued usage of surgical robotics will be more prevalent in the years to come.

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Published on 

Dec 13, 2022



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