What comes to mind when you hear ‘Robot’? It might be C3PO, Terminator or the aptly named Robot who warns, ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ on Netflix’s Lost in Space.
An operating theatre might be the last place you imagine a robot. And yet it’s probably one of the places you’re most likely to find one in real life rather than science fiction.
Robots are increasingly used to assist in 21st century surgery. In orthopaedic surgery, for example, computerised navigation and robotics help to align a knee replacement and optimise its long-term survival.
Here’s what you need to know about the history and role of robots in the operating room.
When was the first robotic-assisted surgery?
In the 1990s, several companies were battling it out to get their robots into the OR. Intuitive Surgical got there first. On 3 March 1997, the first robotic-assisted operation on a living patient was performed using a robot named Mona, built by Intuitive Surgical.
By 2001, just 4 years later, Mona and its successor da Vinci, had assisted in nearly 150 surgical procedures, in subspecialties ranging from gynaecology to cardiac surgery.
Is the robot running the show?
No, absolutely not. Your surgeon is running the show – and has typically spent at least 12 years training for the role and developing the required expertise and skill.
The robot is assisting, much like your sat nav assists you as you drive. Of course, you could study the map yourself and plot out every turn you need to take to reach your destination.
These days, though, you’re more likely to open your favourite navigation app and trust it to get you there.
In terms of robotic knee replacement surgery, for example, your surgeon is the one who understands the research, assesses your condition, plans your procedure and performs your surgery.
Before your op, your surgeon orders X-rays or CT scans of your knee and can now match these to a computer-generated 3D model that enables precise planning of your procedure. This level of detail enables us to optimise your post-op function and results.
The surgery isn’t automated. The surgeon is still the one making incisions, exposing joints, cutting bones, placing implants and sewing you up at the end. The robot provides guidance on precisely where to cut and exactly where to position the knee prosthesis for best results.
Will I see the robot in the operating room?
Yes, you will. The robot will be positioned next to you and draped in a sterile cover.
What are the pros and cons of robotic surgery?
Good question. The pros include:
● Greater accuracy in cutting, placing screws or a prosthesis
● Reduced errors
● Accurate pre-op planning.
The cons include:
● The need for more pre-op investigations and imaging – meaning more bills and more exposure to radiation
● The price tag. Each robot costs more than $1 million, making it a costly purchase for any hospital – and therefore meaning that it’s not available everywhere
● Training – as with any new technology, your surgeon and surgical team need to be properly trained in the use of the robot.
What should I do if I’m interested in robotic-assisted surgery for my operation?
Talk to your surgeon about your suitability and their experience.
Most people who are candidates for surgery are also candidates for robotic surgery but your surgeon knows the particular details of your case.
Not every surgeon has the appropriate training and experience to perform robotic-assisted surgery. Ask your surgeon about their experience with robotic-assisted surgery before you decide how to proceed (you can always choose a different surgeon if necessary).
How can we help?
Dr Radic offers robotic-assisted partial and total knee replacements at Hollywood Private Hospital in Perth. If you’d like to learn more, please contact us.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Dr Ross Radic can consult with you to determine if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. A second opinion may help you decide on your options.