Robotics allow surgeons to carry out many kinds of intricate procedures with more accuracy, versatility and control than can be achieved with traditional surgical solutions. Robotic surgery is generally associated with minimally-invasive surgery; procedures performed by passing instruments through minor incisions. However, surgical robots are also used in some traditional procedures.
Surgical robots have been around for many years. In 2016, about 4,000 surgical robots around the world were used in around 750,000 operations. Nearly all of these machines were made by a single company, Intuitive Surgical, from California. Intuitive has took over the surgical-robot market when the American Food and Drug Administration approved its device, called 'da Vinci' in 2000.
This popular robotic surgical system has a camera arm and other limbs with surgical tools at the ends of each one. The operating specialist controls the arms while seated at a computer unit near the patient, which provides a high-definition, 3D view.
The robotic system makes for greater surgical precision and versatility, allowing doctors to better see where they are working compared to traditional solutions. Using surgical robotics, surgeons can carry out delicate and intricate procedures that may have been very challenging or impossible through the use of conventional methods.
During minimally-invasive surgery, every motion the operator makes on the controls is precisely duplicated by the robot. When required, the doctor can even modify the scale of the robot’s movements: if they select a three-to-one scale, for instance, the end of the robot’s limb will move one inch for every three inches of hand movement. Also due to the system design, the surgeon’s eyes and hands are closely aligned with the view, minimizing physical and mental fatigue.
The result of these features is unprecedented control and minimal invasiveness. Utilizing this technology, surgeons can carry out a wider range of surgical procedures. Patients experience benefits as well, compared to conventional surgery, including less trauma, fewer complications, less scarring and shorter recovery time.
Changes are Coming
The da Vinci system has been predominant since being launched, but that is shifting.
The ceaseless miniaturization of electronics means that better circuits can be installed in smaller and more functional robotic arms than those in da Vinci. This increases the number of procedures surgical robots can be used in.
Also, a lot of da Vinci patents recently expired or are set to do so. Consequently, both start-ups and established companies are making inroads.
The UK-based Cambridge Medical Robotics recently debuted a surgical robot dubbed Versius. Unlike da Vinci, which has arms attached to a single unit, Versius has independent arms, each with its own unit. These arms are compact and light enough to be moved around a patient or from one operating room to another.
With this system, a hospital does not have to dedicate one particular operating theatre to robotic surgery. Furthermore, the number of arms can be customized based on the procedure.
Unlike a da Vinci's robotic arm, the Versius arms were built to resemble human ones: Each one has three joints, comparable to those found in the shoulder, elbow and wrist. This means surgeons can use natural-feeling motions, rather than having to learn all-new, unnatural gestures.
While Versius and da Vinci were made with abdominal and thoracic surgery in mind, a surgical robot from Medical Microinstruments (MMI) is built for reconstructive microsurgery. This surgical process involves a surgeon repairing weakened blood vessels and nerves.
In June 2018, another company called Auris Health debuted a robotic endoscope known as Monarch that can be lengthened like a telescope to advance through a patient’s airways and into the slender reaches of the lungs, providing doctors with a clear direct view of the deepest parts of the lungs.
The system supplies computer-assisted visualization and navigation software guides doctors to a specified portion of the lung they want to assess. Auris said Monarch is built to help doctors diagnose lung cancer sooner than current methods, such as traditional endoscopes and biopsies.