In recent years, robot-assisted surgeries are becoming increasingly common, and researchers are working to develop new equipment and procedures. Study findings of robotic surgery procedures indicate that they ensure a high quality of care, and according to experts “Robots will not replace doctors but help them to perform to the highest standards.” Robots have now been employed during gynecological, urological, cardiac surgery, and general surgery procedures. Surgeons have also utilized these high-tech devices to perform gastric bypass surgeries, excise cancerous tumors from the head and neck, and deliver anesthesia. When used by surgeons with appropriate training, these devices may help to provide improved health outcomes and even deliver care remotely.
A reported 1,068 surgeries were completed in 2010 using the da Vinci Surgical System. In use at 852 hospitals across the United States, the da Vinci has become the most well-known of the surgical robots currently being utilized. The da Vinci allows for procedures to be conducted laparoscopically (using smaller incisions), resulting in faster healing, lower risk of infection, and quicker recovery. The da Vinci features a high-resolution camera that produces magnified 3D images and micro-instruments allow for the translation of a surgeon’s hand movements to smaller, more precise ones by the device’s four arms. As with any new procedure or medical equipment, surgeons and surgical staff must be trained properly to ensure that they are using the device effectively and some newer models of da Vinci Surgical Systems feature two sets of controls, allowing an opportunity for residents to safely receive hands-on training, or two surgeons to work simultaneously to complete a procedure.
Though robotic-assisted surgeries for certain types of tumors have been found to be as effective as other minimally invasive surgical techniques, experts note the importance of the surgeon having proper training on the device. Despite the increased precision made possible by magnified images and the dexterity of the machine’s tools, the robot is still “an instrument that is constantly being controlled by the surgeon,” according to Dr. Balasubramaniam Sivakumar, a general surgeon of 32 years and medical staff vice president at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center.
The da Vinci has been used in conjunction with other surgical robots, including the McSleepy, an anesthetic robot. According to Dr. TM Hemmerling, “Automated anesthesia delivery via McSleepy guarantees the same high quality of care every time it is used.” Success has also been noted in surgeries utilizing the SpineAssist, a small robotic arm coupled with a work station that allows surgeons to map out a patient’s spinal anatomy in advance of the procedure. Innovations in cardiac surgery have also been made thanks to tiny, jointed robots like the CardioArm, which provides greater precision than a flexible endoscope and is easy to control. Despite their potential benefit to patients, surgical robots are often quite costly and it is frequently cost-prohibitive to introduce them into clinics and hospitals. Though these devices could allow surgeons to complete procedures remotely, in medically underserved areas, surgical robots are often not available. With continued advancements in the field of robot-assisted surgery, the cost of the equipment may decrease and their availability may increase worldwide.
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