The field of medicine is constantly evolving thanks to continued innovation in science and technology. A prime example of this progression is with medical imaging.
Just a few decades ago, X-rays were the primary imaging method available. Today, getting an MRI or CT scan is just as commonplace but provides healthcare professionals with much more information than a single X-ray could.
Another technological advancement that has seen widespread adoption within the field of medicine is robotics. Robotics is utilized in a number of capacities within the medical field.
Some robotic actuators help to administer medicine, while others can even facilitate chest compressions for those that fall under cardiac arrest.
Still others can even perform surgery. The Da Vinci surgical system hit national news in the early 2000s, and its innovation has continued to pave the way for robotics in medicine ever since.
Below is a closer look at what robotic surgery is, its benefits, when it can be utilized, and much more.
Surgery is defined as the physical removal or repair of organs and tissues. These medical procedures can range significantly in how invasive they are and how much risk is associated with them. To help reduce risks associated with surgery and help improve health outcomes, certain surgical procedures have started utilizing the power of robotic-assisted surgery.
Robotic surgical systems have made many procedures less invasive. Without the use of robots, operating surgeons would need to expose a lot more of the body in order to properly perform the procedure. However, the use of robotic arms and manipulations can help a surgeon work in a much tighter space with more dexterity.
Surgical robots can differ significantly depending on the specific use case but tend to be composed of similar components.
On the operating end of the machine, there is typically an articulating high-definition camera for surgeons to have a visual field of where they are operating. There is typically also a variety of articulating arms that have the tools and surgical instruments necessary for excision, reconstruction, and whatever else may be needed in the procedure.
Robotic surgery is becoming increasingly common in many different subfields of medicine. Surgeons dealing with the heart, urinary tract, thoracic region, or reproductive organs have widely adopted robotic surgery to help improve patient outcomes and lower certain risk factors.
Below is a closer look at some of the many benefits of robot-assisted surgery and why it has become so pervasive in the fields of surgical medicine.
One benefit that robots have over the human hand is that they possess the ability for greater precision. A highly trained surgeon’s hand can be highly precise, but robotic control eliminates any kind of tremor that may be present in human hands.
Additionally, the close proximity of the camera to the surgical site allows surgeons to see exactly what they are doing rather than relying on feeling.
Many surgeries involve working around blood vessels, which requires a high level of accuracy to ensure that these are not accidentally punctured. The ability to have a real-time image of the operating site enables a surgeon to effectively avoid these blood vessels and perform surgery with less blood loss.
Traditional surgical methods require a surgeon to not only operate on the specific tissue that needs surgical intervention but also require the surgeon to gain access to the tissue in question by making incisions to visualize the area.
Robot surgery only requires tiny incisions to allow the robotic instruments to gain access. Less tissue damage can mean a quicker recovery time, which can help to improve patient outcomes and result in shorter hospital stays.
Pain and scarring are some of the largest concerns for patients, and robotic surgery could have the potential to lessen both. Pain from surgery is commonly caused by the damage inflicted on the tissues during the operation.
This includes the damage inflicted to get to the target site. Since robotic surgery tends to result in less uninvolved tissue damage, it could yield less pain following recovery when compared to typical open surgery.
Robot surgery can help to reduce surgical complications in a number of ways. The first complication that can be mitigated with robot surgery is the risk of infection.
The skin does a fantastic job at protecting the body from infection, but any time the skin barrier is broken, it can expose the body to bacteria. Since these robots require smaller incisions than traditional surgical approaches, they can reduce the risk of infection.
Aside from their small incisions, robotic surgery may help to reduce other postoperative complications like blood clots. For instance, a study in England found that robotic-assisted bladder removal had significantly reduced instances of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism when compared to individuals that underwent traditional bladder removal.
Complications like pulmonary embolism can cause lasting damage. Luckily, pulmonary rehab may be helpful in these situations.
Robotic technology is continuously getting better, and as such, its spread to surgical specialties across medicine also continues to grow. Amongst these specialties, some providers have taken approaches to laparoscopic surgery that utilize smaller incision sites for minimally invasive surgery.
Laparoscopy has been utilized for things like hernia repair and colorectal surgery, in addition to procedures involving thoracic surgery to target the heart or lungs. For cardiothoracic surgeons, robotic machines can be helpful in treating a leaky heart valve, a blocked coronary artery, and arrhythmias.
Aside from thoracic and abdominal surrey, robotic surgery can be used in:
The ability to avoid large incisions while also having a greater range of motion makes robotic surgical aids an advantageous addition to many fields of surgery.
One of the main limitations of robotic surgery has to do with its accessibility. In countries like the United States, robotic surgical intervention tends to be available at many major medical centers.
However, smaller hospitals are unlikely to have this highly specialized equipment since it requires highly trained and skilled surgeons to operate. The machines themselves are expensive, and having a team to maintain, clean, and operate them can prevent facilities with limited resources from using them.
Robotic surgery and traditional surgery still have their respective places in the field of medicine. Both approaches can yield beneficial patient outcomes and save people's lives, but there are some distinct ways in which they differ from one another.
The cost of robotic-assisted surgery tends to be significantly higher than traditional surgery. This is because of the upfront cost of the machine, the amount of time it takes a surgeon to become proficient with the surgeon's controls, and the cost of upkeep.
Another way in which these approaches differ is their availability. The availability of surgeons is already strained, and some experts are predicting a further shortage of qualified surgeons. You may be more likely to find a traditional surgeon near you than a specialized surgeon trained in the use of robotic surgical equipment.
Insurance coverage is a large deciding factor when it comes to determining whether or not robot-assisted surgery is a viable option. Many robotic-assisted surgeries are classified as minimally invasive, which may help to get them covered. However, ultimately it comes down to your insurer and your particular plan.
Robotic surgery 30 years ago would have been met with apprehension and uncertainty, but today, it is an integral tool for treating a host of conditions that would otherwise require quite invasive medical procedures. Robotic surgery poses many benefits, including smaller incisions, reduced infections, and better short-term outcomes like a reduced hospital stay.
If you have recently had a procedure for your heart or lungs, it may be worthwhile to ask your physician if you are a good candidate for a pulmonary or cardiac rehabilitation program. If you are, consider Carda Health.
We are a digital cardiac rehab and pulmonary rehab provider that provides you with tailored and monitored exercise programs. We’ll meet you where you are and work with you to help support your cardiovascular and pulmonary health as you recover.
Effect of Robot-Assisted Radical Cystectomy With Intracorporeal Urinary Diversion vs Open Radical Cystectomy on 90-Day Morbidity and Mortality Among Patients With Bladder Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial | JAMA
Robot-Assisted Surgery, Advantages, Disadvantages | Cleveland Clinic
AAMC Supports Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2023 | AAMC