If you are hearing about robotic surgery for the first time, you are probably thinking that it involves robots replacing surgeons in the operating room. This is not quite the case. Robotic surgery involves the use of the latest healthcare IT to do minimally invasive surgical operations.

Minimally invasive operations refer to surgical procedures that use miniaturized surgical equipment that can fit through a number of incisions that a surgeon makes on his patient. The incisions are typically each a quarter of an inch in size.

Since the first robotic surgical procedure successfully connected a woman’s fallopian tubes in 1997, this technology has undergone significant growth. Today, many health practices have embraced this technology, especially in prostate removals.

Intuitive Surgical, one of the world’s most popular robotic systems providers, says the use of robots in operating rooms is increasing. The company has over 3,600 of its da Vinci machines installed in hospitals around the globe.

According to Reuters, by 2021, for every three surgeries that will be performed in the United States, one will be done using robotic systems. This is despite a growing consensus among doctors that this technology desperately needs improvement.

Robotic Surgery Setbacks and Risks

While robotic surgeries are increasing by an average of 25% every year, this healthcare IT phenomenon was not the game-changer that many had hoped. Almost two decades from that first robotic operation, a number of setbacks have persisted. These include:

Absence of tactile feel

Surgeons using robotic systems may be excited by the opportunity to perform surgical operations with a robotic system that is meticulously precise in showing them what they are doing on the operating table, but using these systems means they don’t get to feel their way around a patient’s tissue.

While many surgeons would say the ability to see the operation site in high-quality video more than compensates for the lack of touch during these procedures, others do believe that a surgeon’s tactile feel is an important part of the surgical procedure.

The robot is expensive

To get one robotic system, you have to set aside around $2 million. In addition, you will now and then have to buy some disposable parts you attach to the arms of the robot. This is, perhaps, why robotic surgical procedures are so expensive.

It doesn’t help its case that there is a growing feeling that whatever this healthcare IT can do, there may be other technologies that can do this, and, maybe, even do it with fewer risks. Many in the healthcare industry are wondering if robotic systems will bring transformation in the sector or it is just an ineffective and awfully expensive technology.

Robotic surgery linked to deaths, injuries

A 14-year research of surgical robotic systems linked them to no less than 144 deaths and over 1,000 injuries within that period of study.

Some of the events that the researchers identified as having caused these deaths and injuries included when broken instruments fall into the bodies of patients, tissue burns resulting from electrical sparks and robot system errors that resulted in the procedures taking longer than originally planned.

Nevertheless, the report, published in PLoS ONE journal says these figures represent a relatively small proportion of the hundreds of thousands of robotic procedures performed every year. That notwithstanding, healthcare IT leaders must come up with new and effective safety measures for this technology to have a significant impact on the healthcare IT industry.

Do the Benefits of Robotic Surgery Outweigh the Risks?

Health practitioners agree that robot-assisted surgical procedures have many benefits for both the patient and the surgeon. These include

  1. The surgeon enjoys a greater dexterity and motion range
  2. The surgeon sees live video of the operation field in the patient’s body. These visuals have high magnification and are highly magnified, resulting in greater surgical precision.
  3. The robots give the surgeon better access to the operation area within the body of a patient.
  4. The patient has shorter hospital stays.
  5. The patient is at a lower risk of infection.
  6. The patient requires fewer blood transfusions and loses less blood during the operation.
  7. The patient experiences significantly less pain compared to open surgery
  8. The patient takes a shorter time to recover and resume his normal activities

Whether the risk of going through a robot-assisted surgical operation is worth it is a decision that every patient has to make. Many patients decide what to do based on their religious beliefs, the cost of the procedure and the confidence they have in the ability and experience of the surgeon in working with robotic systems in the operating room.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when making this decision is the experience of the surgeon in using robotic systems.

While a surgeon might be very good at their work, if using these robots is new to him, the probability of making some mistakes during the procedure is relatively high. A surgeon experienced with using these robots is the greatest assurance you can get when preparing for an operation.

The Future of Robotic Surgery

Just last month, John, a 59-year-old man in Auckland, New Zealand became the first man in that country to undergo a specialized robotic surgery. The man, who was diagnosed with oral cancer last July, decided to undergo a robotic surgery because he believed it would be more accurate in removing the tumor and that he would have a shorter recovery time.

Just over a month since the operation and John has already resumed his daily runs. He says that he is “fit as a fiddle.”

As more healthcare IT companies and medical practitioners embrace robotic systems, here are a number of things you should expect to see:

  • According to Grand View Research, the global market for medical robotic systems will reach $17.9 billion by 2020.
  • Outpatient surgery centers will increase their rate of adopting robotic surgery technology.
  • Robotic surgery systems of the future will make it possible for surgeons to feel a patient’s body tissue remotely.
  • Robotic technology will be embraced in many countries around the globe.
  • Touchscreen solutions will become more widely adopted in medical facilities where robotic surgeries are being practiced.
  • The next generation of robotic surgery tech will be safer, less expensive and will be able to perform a wide range of surgical procedures.

The setbacks and risks that have characterized robotic technologies in the past will be the fuel that will propel the next generation of robotic IT in healthcare. Whatever happens, one thing you can be sure of is that robotic surgical technology will be a significant part of the future of healthcare IT.

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