Robotic Surgery – The Jury Is Still Out but Likely Not for Long

It’s hard to fathom the technological advances made just in past few decades, much less the last 100 years.  They almost pale in comparison to the predictions of Forbidden Planet’s Robbie the Robot and Star Trek’s replicator.  (Okay, maybe we haven’t quite caught up to promise of Star Wars, but we are getting closer all the time.)    Robbie is not yet doing surgery all by himself, but since robotic/computer-assisted surgery began in the late 1980s and blossomed in the late 1990s, the number of  surgeries and types of procedures in which such technology is used have proliferated.

Robotic surgeries have many advantages over traditional surgical methods.  They allow the surgeon to operate more precisely in more confined areas with less trauma to the patient, meaning less blood loss, less pain and a quicker recovery.   The future holds even greater promise, with surgeons being able to see the internal aspects of the operating field in real time 3-D and operate on patients in remote places around the world from a single location.  As robotic technologies are integrated with surgical instrumentation, we should expect surgical robots to become smaller, less expensive and easier to operate.  Of course, this development will come at a cost and right now, the jury is still out on whether the benefits of robot assisted surgery are justified.

Case in point.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently stated that most routine hysterectomies should be performed using standard tools through the vagina rather than robotically, citing a lack of evidence that robotic procedures improved outcomes and the $2,000 of additional cost.  You can read the article here.

Robotic procedures are still being developed and, for many procedures, a variety of competing techniques have been suggested.  Experimentation will continue and techniques become more refined and subjected to greater scrutiny.  Even after a technique has become the standard, however, current research suggests that surgeons must do many robotic procedures and do them regularly in order to obtain the expected benefits.  One  benefit of conventional surgeries is that they carry less risk when performed by low volume surgeons than robotic procedures.

Of course, the early stages of any developing technology carries with it both risk and expense.  In the long run, however, it seems that the benefits have usually outweighed the growing pains.  Just imagine when Orville and Wilbur first flew under power in 1909.  Could they or anyone have possibly imagined we would land a man on the moon just 60 years later?  The development of technology –  wow!



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