Over the past decade, nearly 2000 surgical robots have been sold in the U.S. and the procedures have skyrocketed by 30% each year. Is this high tech surgery really better than human hands?
Robotic surgeries are used for everything from delicate head and neck surgery to routine hysterectomies. Marketing has played a huge roll in its popularity. Many hospitals will advertise that they use this type of surgery in hopes of making the hospital seem more high tech and cutting edge. While it may sound cool to have this type of surgery, studies show that most uses of this type of surgery had no advantages and may have carried more risks. This includes surgeries such as gallbladder removal, colorectal surgery, hysterectomies, and procedures to reverse reflux.
Well..lets really look at the pros and cons.
- Robotic surgery can reduce the risk of infection and speed recovery for minimally invasive procedures
- It is considered generally safe by the FDA
- It improves the surgeons field of vision by using a computer screen that magnifies everything in 3D
- The robots “hands” can reach into tighter spots and move in ways that human hands can’t and corrects for hand tremors
- Reduces physician fatigue since they work while sitting at a console instead of standing at times for many hours
- Less blood loss and faster recoveries
- There is a growing number of reports of complications. As of August 2012, 71 deaths have been documented by the FDA
- Nerve damage can occur if patients are held in an unnatural position, as required in some procedures
- Surgeons don’t get the tactile sensation that comes with touching or cutting tissue which increases risk of injury to organs
- The machine can cause burns from the electric current.
- There are no national training standards and the training is typically on-line instruction and a 1-day session at the manufacturers headquarters and 2 supervised surgeries.
- Some patients aren’t told that their surgery will be performed with the assistance of a robot.
Weigh the pros and cons carefully and if you decide to have robotic surgery, choose a doctor who has performed at least 20 surgeries and has practiced these skills for more than a year.
Reference: Howard, B. “Meet Dr. Robot”, AARP. December 2013-January 2014, pp17-19.