6 Reasons Not to Worry about Robots in the Operating Room

Cybernet
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Debunking some of the myths behind robot-assisted surgery

There’s no shortage of fear about automation, but most of it has to do with job loss. However, there is a unique anxiety that may have patients fearing their upcoming surgery appointment more than usual: the idea that a robot may be the one holding the scalpel.

Robotic surgery is making headlines, and in fact, has been widely embraced by the surgical community. The da Vinci Surgical System, by the far most popular robot-assisted surgery system, already has nearly 3000 installations in the U.S. and 4,500 across the world.

Before long, robot-assisted surgical systems will be as common and helpful as medical computers and stethoscopes.

So, if your doctor tells you your surgery is going to involve robots, remember there’s no reason to get anxious. The following reasons should set your mind at ease.

1. Robotic-Assisted Surgery is Cleaner

Why do we need robots in the OR? An excellent question: why buy an automobile when a horse is so convenient? Why use a medical tablet when the paper chart exists? Jokes aside, there are clear advantages to robot-assisted surgery, which is why the practice has already become so widespread.

For one, cleanliness is greatly increased — you can sanitize a plastic-and-metal robot arm a lot more harshly than a human hand. Plus, bacteria are less likely to live on an inanimate metal object than in the warm incubator that is a human body.

Also, you can take the blade or forceps out of a robot arm and toss it in a medical sanitizer — a doctor’s arm doesn’t have that flexibility.

2. It Reduces Surgeon Fatigue

Surgery isn’t usually a short process.

Sure, a vasectomy may only take 30 minutes, but a conjoined-twin separation may last a staggering 30 hours. In a study by the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paolo, the 80th percentile of mean surgery duration was in the 285-minute range, or well over four hours.

Most people get tired watching a movie for two hours, let alone performing extremely delicate procedures for four hours that are literally life and death. The human body gets fatigued, it sweats, it shakes, it cramps. Hand muscles lock up, back and neck muscles ache, and feet start barking.

Now, attach those aching muscles to a razor-sharp blade for three hours and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. With robot-assisted surgery, the arms are rock-solid, and will only move when the surgeon directs them. The surgeon can rest, step away, take their hands off the controls and even have another doctor or student take over and the robotic limbs won’t even twitch.

3. The Process is Completely Doctor-Controlled

The concept of “robots doing surgery” can conjure frightening images of chrome-plated nightmares bristling with buzz saws and lasers, but the truth is much simpler (and more reassuring): the “robots” in the operating rooms of today aren’t really robots.

Not in the classic ‘50s sci-fi sense, or even by the standard definition, anyway. They aren’t autonomous machines acting on their own volition — instead, they are merely tools of a very human surgeon with his or her hand on the wheel the entire time. They are no more a robot than a Honda Accord or a stand mixer is a robot.

Surgical “robots” are extremely complicated and extensive tools, but they’re nothing more than the extended hands and eyes of a normal surgeon. The surgeon sits at a medical panel PC station, looking into a high-definition screen that shows everything the micro camera can see — which is far more than the naked human eye. The surgeon then uses an array of controls that aren’t too dissimilar looking from a video game arcade cabinet at first blush, and the computer processes that information and transfers it to the smooth, articulated robot limbs.

Like a fiber optic camera or the anesthesiologist’s fanless medical computer, robotic surgical suites are there to increase the natural skills, organization, and observations of a well-trained, experienced doctor.

For that reason, Dr. Charles Dinerstein — vascular surgeon and senior fellow at the American Council on Science and Health — recommends dropping the word “robot” from the practice completely. He and others suggest that nomenclature like “computer-assisted” is far more accurate and less frightening.

4. You’ll Heal Faster

Obviously circumstances change depending on the nature of the surgery, but generally, robot-assisted surgery is done with extremely small incisions.

These small incisions cause less trauma to the patient overall, which causes less blood loss, pain, and scarring. These increased recovery times shorten hospital stays and get you back home faster.

The small incisions, sterile robotic arms, and low air exposure also decrease the chance of infection, which can be one of the most dangerous factors in any surgical procedure at a hospital.

5. Your Doctor Can See Better

Systems like the da Vinci console give surgeons a near-perfect view of the surgical site.

With modern robot-assisted systems, the surgical area can be magnified as desired, down to the individual layers of muscle like the inner longitudinal layer, the middle circular layer, and the outer longitudinal layer.

A comparative level of scrutiny could also be obtained in the past after a cadaver dissection with the aid of a microscope, which, obviously, wasn’t terribly useful for a live patient.

It’s even possible to see and operate on millimetric structures like the Cavernosal nerve, to repair the brachial plexus, or to denervate the spermatic cord.

The cameras and software attached to these computer-assisted surgical systems can even create 3D visual models of the site being operated on. This unprecedented access to the patient’s internal geography could have only obtained in the past with a completely open, exploratory surgery, one that would cause a great deal of trauma to the patient.

Computer-assisted surgery is also incredibly useful for doctor performance and training — unlike most surgeries, robotic surgery can be easily recorded. This can be played back for the doctor simply looking to review their own performance, or as a training or testing tool for students.

6. We Can Perform New Kinds of Surgeries

Some surgeries are incredibly complex or deal with areas of the body that are tiny or difficult to navigate through.

In the past, some of these procedures may have simply been impossible, or just so highly invasive and dangerous that the risks to the patient were through the roof.

For instance, robotic surgery has made spinal surgery far more viable, accurate, and less dangerous to the patient. The FDA recently approved a system called the Mazor X Stealth Edition that allows for more accuracy during spinal surgery. The system constantly checks against a pre-programmed blueprint for the surgery, cutting down on errors. It also reportedly reduces the normal amount of radiation used during such a procedure by 76%.

The accuracy of robot-assisted systems is also perfect for ENT applications. The canals of the ear, nose, and throat all represent the trifecta of surgical difficulty: they’re tiny, they’re complex, and they’re extremely important to patient health and quality of life.

Robot limbs like those attached to the da Vinci system allow ENT surgeons unprecedented access to problem areas in the head and shoulders. The 3D camera, lighting, and magnification illuminate areas previously only accessible by magnetic imaging, and the precise controls and computer-aided movements add a layer of finesse that allows the surgeon to perform even the most delicate maneuvers.

Robot-assisted surgery can help surgeons remove tumors beneath the tongue, in the throat, near the voice box, and in other difficult-to-reach areas in the head, all without the kind of massive incisions or jaw splitting required in the past.

Building a Better Operating Room

You’re most likely to run into robot-assisted surgery during procedures like hysterectomies, gall bladder removals, throat surgery, and prostatectomies — delicate operations that require a lot of vision, a steady hand, and multiple steps.

Robot-assisted surgery simply increases surgeon efficacy and patient recovery time — no one is leaving you at the mercy of the DoctorTron 3000.

To learn more about how medical computers, advanced technology, and cutting-edge hardware can improve the healthcare landscape, contact Cybernet today.

Robots in the Operating Room
Robots in the Operating Room

A high-tech looking operating room with lots of computers, equipment, bright lights, and clean floors and walls.

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