The Future of Using Robots in Surgery

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The biggest benefit is if you've got your abdominal wall and it's intact, and it's not involved in whatever it is that you need that surgery for, you simply don't cut a big hole in it, and place your hands inside instead we can do small sub-centimeter incisions, and get all the capability of the hands inside.

So you get the same surgery, but without that big incision. There have been studies that have been done on how long people stay in the hospital for an open versus a minimally invasive or robotic surgery, and generally people are going home about two days earlier, and then but beyond that if you're recovering from that big incision and trying to get back to work, trying to get back to normal life, there have been a couple of studies, one most notably in Sweden where they looked at how long people took before they went back work and on an average after an open surgery, people went back after that 49 days, so they're out for six weeks or more.

After robotic surgery, they were going back after 11 days, so it was a really big difference in how people felt post operatively. It was initially envisioned as a cardiac machine. They thought if you don't cut through the sternum and instead can place instruments in between the ribs, you'll be able to do a lot of cardiac surgery without the collateral damage of cutting through the chest.

That turned out not to be the place where it was adopted the quickest. There were some surgeons who were trying to do laparoscopic prostatectomy, surgical removal of the prostrate who were getting very frustrated with how technically difficult those surgeries were, and looked to the da Vinci robot as, maybe if I can get my wrists back, if I can get my 3D vision, back, I'd be able to do this procedure better, and prostatectomy was really the procedure that caught fire, it was the one that led to a lot of hospitals acquiring robots.

There has been really an expansion of the indications, people have been using it in more areas, though largely the basic premise that you want to take binocular vision and wristed instruments inside has remained fairly constant. It's just people are applying it in new areas and they're starting to understand as there have been more and more patients who've had robotic surgery what the long term benefits are of having had this kind of minimal invasive surgery.

Surgeons are not a homogeneous group. There are some that absolutely love it, and there are some that are very suspicious of it. For those that love it, the technology makes them feel like they can do a better operation. They are a small surgeon inside able to work directly on the patient and being able to do everything that they can do through an open incision.