Last week my wife and I were driving down the road and came across a billboard advertising “robot-assisted bariatric surgery” at our local hospital. While we weren’t interested in the particular surgery, it did spur one of our many philosophical debates. Our topic of conversation was this: would you rather be operated on by a robot or by a human? I would take the robot any day of the week. They are steadier, more consistent, and they have nothing on their mind but my surgery. The downside is that they are not as creative. My wife would prefer the human. She fears the robot would crash in the middle of the surgery or the pinwheel of doom would appear and stop the surgery prematurely. But this is robot-assisted, so it is a marriage of consistency, accuracy, and creativity. In any case, I had not heard of robot-assisted surgery so I had to learn more.
Blessed by the FDA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved robot-assisted surgery in 2000 with the introduction of the daVinci Surgery robot. This tool allows a doctor to sit at a console near the patient and control robotic arms. These arms enter the body through tiny incisions and have a camera, a light, or a selection of wristed instruments on the end. The surgeon can then see a magnified, high definition picture of the area and can guide the tools through the body using a joystick-like interface. The doctor’s movements are translated into much smaller motions by the instruments, which have humanlike wrist movement. The upsides are:
- Small incisions vs. open surgery.
- Quicker recovery.
- Less chance of infection.
- Potentially greater accuracy.
- Less invasive procedure may mean faster healing.
Since being approved, surgeons using these robots have performed thousands of surgeries in areas such as gastroenterology and cardiac surgery. This is laparoscopic surgery merged with robotic technology to provide for even more accuracy and finesse.
This is an incredible use of technology to assist skilled doctors in performing critical and delicate surgeries. One of the future improvements is telerobotic surgery where the surgeon is not even in the room and could control the robot from anywhere. This requires rock solid networking. Another potential development is completely robotic surgery. This would require preprogramming and very accurate vision and recognition systems.
I am excited about this use of technology and the future possibilities of advancements in this field. This will require new technical skills and new training to ensure that all systems are functioning and that the infrastructure supplying these systems is foolproof. How would you feel about being worked over by a robot directed by a skilled surgeon? Do you trust the two working together? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.