It’s 2016 and yet true robotic surgery is not yet a reality. The current reality is that robotic surgery carefully controlled by a human surgeon is here, and here to stay. Actually, robot-assisted surgery is a more accurate term, and patients shouldn’t be worried that a faceless robot controls your critical outcome.
At the current time, robotic surgery techniques are applied in a variety of procedures in areas including cardiothoracic surgery, colorectal surgery, general surgery, gynecologic surgery, urologic surgery, and ear, nose, and throat surgery. In 2012, the most recent year for which full statistics are available, 400,000 robotic procedures were performed in the United States alone.
Cost is an issue. Robot-assisted surgery is still more expensive that conventional surgery, although that is expected to change at some point in the future. If the human surgeon needs to be involved, why add the extra expense of a robot? There are a few reasons why robotic surgery as it is currently used produces better patient outcomes, warranting the higher cost. In no particular order:
The first is flexibility. The surgeon can either control the device remotely via a computer, or can use a hands-on tele-manipulator to move robotic arms or other instruments. The demands of the operation allow the surgeon the luxury of choosing the best method available.
The second reason is the constraints of the size of the human hand. Robotic arms or instruments can be much smaller than the human hand, and therefore surgery can le less invasive, and recovery time quicker.
Another argument in favor of robotics, especially in some procedures, is the availability of better optical magnification. For example, in some microsurgical procedures the Da Vinci robotic platform offers 12x – 15x optical magnification.
A fourth reason is location. Since some procedures can involve robotic arms manipulated exclusively via computer, the surgeon can be located anywhere in the world. Obviously, this can increase patient access to surgery in Third World countries or other areas where surgeon populations are small.
Other, perhaps less obvious benefits exist depending on the type of surgery involved. Some reports cite less tissue damage and scarring when surgery is robot-assisted due to smaller incisions being made. This can also lead to less blood loss and faster recovery. In addition, Physicians have described being less tired and experiencing fewer hand tremors due to fatigue when assisted by robotics.
Intuitive Surgical, the maker of the Da Vinci platform estimates that robotic-assisted procedures will increase by 30% in 2016, following rapid growth over the preceding 10 years. This future looks bright.
While training is required to prepare surgeons for the robotic surgery theater, and added benefit is that most procedures are recorded, and can be used to educate other doctors on best practices and what to look for.
In terms of safety, while the jury is still out, it is generally accepted that robot-assisted surgery is safer than conventional surgery. According to Medical Daily, over the last 14 years, the effective lifespan of mainstream robotic surgery, the number of deaths and complications overall has fallen dramatically.