Surgical Robots

Surgical Robots: The Future of Minimally Invasive Surgery


Since the beginning of time, medical practitioners have strived to develop techniques and technologies that can help treat patients in the least invasive way possible. While traditional “open surgery” methods achieved good clinical outcomes, they also caused significant trauma to the human body through large incisions and damage to healthy tissue. In recent decades, minimally invasive surgery (MIS) using techniques like laparoscopy has revolutionized patient care by allowing complicated procedures to be performed through just a few small incisions. However, MIS still faced limitations in areas like dexterity, control and range of motion compared to open surgery. Surgical robots now promise to take MIS to the next level by overcoming many of its existing constraints.

Evolution of Surgical Robotics

The earliest attempts at robotic surgery date back to the late 1980s, but it was only in the 2000s that true surgical robotic systems started emerging. Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System, approved by FDA in 2000, became the clinical gold standard and is still the dominant player today with over 7,000 systems installed worldwide. Other major companies like Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson have also released FDA-approved robotic platforms in recent years to challenge Intuitive’s monopoly.

These modern Surgical Robot allow surgeons to operate through small incisions from an ergonomic console many meters away from the patient. They provide magnified, high-definition 3D views of the surgical site and intuitive instrument control via robotic “wrists”. This gives surgeons enhanced dexterity, precision and range of motion that surpasses the human capability. Robotic arms hold and maneuver miniature surgical tools, filters and hands tremors. They can also be used for complex procedures like prostatectomies, hysterectomies and mitral valve repairs with benefits like less blood loss, shorter hospital stay and faster recovery for patients.

Advantages of Surgical Robots

The key advantages of using surgical robots compared to manual MIS or open surgery techniques are:

– Enhanced Dexterity: Surgeons have up to 360-degree range of motion with robotic tools vs. the limited degrees of freedom through long laparoscopic instruments. They can also scale and filter hand motions for more precise suturing or dissection work in tight spaces.

– Increased Precision: With instruments steadied by robotic arms, tremor is filtered out for microsurgeries requiring pinpoint accuracy like stitching of small blood vessels. 3D high-definition viewing also aids in complex anatomical visualization and dissection.

– Flexibility: Multi-arm robotic systems allow surgeons to operate on multiple quadrants simultaneously using different instruments through a single small incision, something impossible in open or manual laparoscopic procedures.

– Customization: Robotic platforms are regularly upgraded with new features and capabilities through software updates based on surgeon and clinical feedback for continuous improvement and flexibility.

– Personalized Assistant: Advancements in artificial intelligence, machine vision and algorithms will enable surgical robots to one day act as AI assistants analyzing and tagging anatomy, predicting steps and automating repetitive motions to optimize OR efficiency.

Applications in Various Specialties

Since their commercial introduction two decades ago, surgical robots have revolutionized procedures across a variety of medical disciplines:

– Urology: Over 80% of radical prostatectomies in the US are now performed robotically thanks to better precision and outcomes versus open surgery. Robotic cystectomies and nephrectomies are also becoming more common.

– Gynecology: Hysterectomies, myomectomies and sacrocolpopexies greatly benefit from the flexible multi-arm capabilities of robots for uterine and ovarian procedures.

– General Surgery: Robotic systems enable complex stomach, colon and rectal surgeries through a minimally invasive approach that was previously not feasible.

– Cardiothoracic: Mitral valve repairs and atrial fibrillation ablations are leading cardiac applications. Robotic lobectomies and esophagectomies also deliver improved recovery with less morbidity versus open techniques.

– Pediatric Surgery: From pyeloplasties to fundoplications, surgical robots allow delicate procedures even in small pediatric anatomy previously only possible through open approaches.

Future of Surgical Robotics

Robotic surgery is undoubtedly the future, but there is still room for much advancement. Areas that will see major developments in coming years include:

– Autonomy and AI: With advanced computer vision, algorithms and machine learning, surgical robots will gain more autonomous capabilities to potentially perform entire procedures independently under doctor oversight.

– Miniaturization: As technology scales down, new generation micro-robots may one day access the body through natural orifices without any external incisions required.

– Augmented Reality: Merging of virtual and real-time surgical visuals will allow remote collaborative procedures and “mixed reality” training environments.

– Personalized Medicine: Integration of patient-specific data like genetic profiles, medical images with AI will enable predictive, customized and precise surgical robots for individualized care.

– Affordability: Widespread clinical adoption will depend on more affordable surgical robotic platforms that don’t require a large capital investment or ongoing maintenance contract costs.

In conclusion, surgical robots represent the inevitable progression of minimally invasive techniques. While still maturing, current systems have already transformed many areas and improved patient outcomes. Full autonomy may be decades away, but steady technological evolution will see these robotic assistants playing an increasingly vital role alongside human operators in advancing the standard of surgical care globally.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it