Advantages of Robotic Surgery
In today's operating rooms, you'll find two or three surgeons, an anesthesiologist and several nurses, all needed for even the simplest of surgeries. Most surgeries require nearly a dozen people in the room. As with all automation, surgical robots will eventually eliminate the need for some of that personnel. Taking a glimpse into the future, surgery may require only one surgeon, an anesthesiologist and one or two nurses. In this nearly empty operating room, the doctor will sit at a computer console, either in or outside the operating room, using the surgical robot to accomplish what it once took a crowd of people to perform.
The use of a computer console to perform operations from a distance opens up the idea of tele-surgery, which would involve a doctor performing delicate surgery miles away from the patient. If the doctor doesn't have to stand over the patient to perform the surgery, and can remotely control the robotic arms at a computer station a few feet from the patient, the next step would be performing surgery from locations that are even farther away. If it were possible to use the computer console to move the robotic arms in real-time, then it would be possible for a doctor in California to operate on a patient in New York. A major obstacle in tele-surgery has been the time delay between the doctor moving his or her hands to the robotic arms responding to those movements. Currently, the doctor must be in the room with the patient for robotic systems to react instantly to the doctor's hand movements.
Having fewer personnel in the operating room and allowing doctors the ability to operate on a patient long-distance could lower the cost of health care. In addition to cost efficiency, robotic surgery has several other advantages over conventional surgery, including enhanced precision and reduced trauma to the patient. For instance, heart bypass surgery now requires that the patient's chest be "cracked" open by way of a 1-foot (30.48-cm) long incision. However, with the da Vinci or ZEUS systems, it is possible to operate on the heart by making three small incisions in the chest, each only about 1 centimeter in diameter. Because the surgeon would make these smaller incisions instead of one long one down the length of the chest, the patient would experience less pain and less bleeding, which means a faster recovery.
Robotics also decrease the fatigue that doctors experience during surgeries that can last several hours. Surgeons can become exhausted during those long surgeries, and can experience hand tremors as a result. Even the steadiest of human hands cannot match those of a surgical robot. The da Vinci system has been programmed to compensate for tremors, so if the doctor's hand shakes the computer ignores it and keeps the mechanical arm steady.
While surgical robots offer some advantages over the human hand, we are still a long way from the day when autonomous robots will operate on people without human interaction. But, with advances in computer power and artificial intelligence, it could be that in this century a robot will be designed that can locate abnormalities in the human body, analyze them and operate to correct those abnormalities without any human guidance.