Robots in the Operating Room are the Future and the Present of Healthcare

Robotic Surgeries are the future! And… they are the present. To be clear, robots are not operating on patients alone in operating rooms; at least not yet. What is happening is surgeons are operating in-person and remotely, on patients with the help of robotic arms. Some people this think is a wonderful development and wax eloquently about the advantages whereas other people are like… meh, whatever and think the traditional methods of scalpels in hand is still best. I’ll go over the pros and cons, of robots in the operating room on this episode of “The Jim Stroud Podcast.” | Special thanks to my sponsor – Supapass.app.

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TRANSCRIPT:

Hi! I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

Robotic Surgeries are the future! And… they are the present. To be clear, robots are not operating on patients alone in operating rooms; at least not yet. What is happening is surgeons are operating in-person and remotely, on patients with the help of robotic arms. Some people this think is a wonderful development and wax eloquently about the advantages whereas other people are like… meh, whatever and think the traditional methods of scalpels in hand is still best. I’ll go over the pros and cons, of robots in the operating room, after this…

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When you hear someone talk about robots in the operating room, chances are they are describing the Da Vinci Surgical System, which is a robotic surgical system made by the American company Intuitive Surgical. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000, it is designed to facilitate surgery using a minimally invasive approach, and is controlled by a surgeon from a console. The system is used for prostatectomies, and increasingly for cardiac valve repair and gynecologic surgical procedures.

Da Vinci Surgical Systems were used in an estimated 200,000 surgeries in 2012, most commonly for hysterectomies and prostate removals. As of September 30, 2017, there was an installed base of 4,271 units worldwide – 2,770 in the United States, 719 in Europe, 561 in Asia, and 221 in the rest of the world. According to Wikipedia.

Having a Da Vinci Surgical System in your hospital was, and is, a big deal. Its almost a guarantee to get a hospital free publicity like this news report from 2009. {VIDEO CLIP: “da Vinci Hysterectomy Surgery”} Some doctors sing the praises of the Da Vinci system, often citing these 4 advantages.

    1. From an ergonomic point of view, the system is set up better so that the stresses on the body are less, reducing injury rates for surgeons and making it easier on those surgeons who perform multiple procedures without any breaks.
    2. Robotic surgeries make use of dual camera systems, which can provide the surgeon with a clearer view of the area of operation of the surgeon. The enhanced image can help the surgeon to easily maneuver the equipment in tight spaces. This is especially beneficial in procedures that require precision in surgical movements such as neurological or orthopedic procedures.
    3. It also allows for surgeons to carry out procedures from remote locations which is especially handy when there are no surgeons available on site at the hospital.
    4. And while all that is great for the doctor, the patients enjoy the benefits of less post surgical pain. Less blood loss and improved accuracy.

While some doctors see it as wonderful (and that is a LOT of doctors, by the way) the naysayers tend to point out 2 setbacks:

    • If the operating surgeon is not well-trained, accidental injuries can and will likely occur.
    • The cost of robotic surgery is not fixed so, people who are going to undergo treatments facilitated by robotic surgery will have to be prepared to pay higher medical bills. In fact, a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that using a robot added about US$3,200 to the average cost of a procedure.

From a patient care point of view and a financial perspective, I wondered to myself if robotic surgery really worth it? Which is why I was glad to stumble across this website – “The Doctor Weighs In” because in one of its articles some very interesting arguments about robotic surgeries were made and worth considering; especially if you are a hospital administrator debating on investing in a da Vinci or some similar system. The title of the article is “Is Robotic Surgery Really a Game Changer?” and here are some of the points it made:

  1. Robotic surgery is a lot more time-intensive than laparoscopic surgery. The author of a paper published in the Journal of Minimal Access Surgery claims that the time taken to complete one surgical case laboriously and meticulously in a robotic operating room (OR) is almost equivalent to completion of four complex laparoscopy cases in other ORs.
  2. It is costlier than laparoscopic and open surgery: The same research paper also details on the cost associated with the use of robotic technology. Robot installation in the ORs required an initial investment of at least $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 and the maintenance costs are estimated to be around $350,000 to $400,000.
  3. It cannot act independently: Robotic hands can access inoperable areas and other remote tissues in the human body. But a surgeon is almost always required to make the decision and guide the robotic tools to perform specific actions.
  4. Keeping up with the Jones: Many surgeons have a little knowledge and no experience of robotic surgery. Considering the increasing popularity of it, there are many of them who would like to join the bandwagon by upgrading their skills and do not want to miss out the opportunity. Many researchers fear that this may actually divert the interest of the surgeons…The ultimate objective of the surgeons should not be to master the skill and join the prestigious team of robo-surgeons but to use it as a tool for improved healthcare delivery and outcomes.

I’m pro-robot in this instance as I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. My only concern however is that doctors using this technology might lose the ability to perform these types of surgery without robot assistance. And that might sound strange but ask yourself this, can you recall the phone numbers of the 3 people you call most often? If not, its probably because you are used to asking Siri to connect you or you developed the habit of clicking a name in your contacts and not dialing a phone number. Am I right? Technology is a great way to enhance the skills we already have. If they ever replace our skills to a point that we no longer remember them, then I think we are in trouble.

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