Meet the 21st Century Surgeons — How AI and Robotics are Transforming Surgery
Although surgeons are required to be very mindful during surgical procedures, maintaining vigilance and precision can become challenging during periods of patient influx. This is one of the many avenues in which artificially intelligent surgical robots have started to lend a helping hand. In matters of health and life, the promise of AI is very intriguing and the economic benefits of robots are enormous, especially in the reduction of waiting lists for patients undergoing operations.
While the use of robots in surgery is still in its infancy, more than 5000 surgical robots were used for more than 1 million world-wide procedures last year, spanning from urology, general surgery, orthopedics, neurology, rectal and colon, dental, and even hair transplants. Once deemed as a medical innovation of the future, surgical robots are now a growing reality of the 21st century. The question being asked now is whether these robots will possibly replace human doctors in the future; at present, the aim is to simply help improve efficiency, seeing how robotic surgery is not yet entirely automated (i.e., it consists of miniaturised surgical instruments mounted on a robotic arm which is operated remotely by surgeons in the operating room, a.k.a the da Vinci Surgery System). According to iData Research, these precision technologies “have boosted the surgical robotics market and are expected to reach $98.7 billion by the end of 2024”.
The Application of Robots & AI
Thus far, the overarching consensus amongst practitioners, policy-makers, healthcare providers, and technology companies is that robotic surgery is safer than open surgery, offers shorter hospital stays and, consequently, reduces the potential risk of infection. Such operations also limit blood loss, reduce the need for transfusions, and speed-up patient recovery. With their ability to be minimally invasive and work without rest, it is clear that robot-assisted surgeries are the most effective way forward. As an example, a patient in 2018 underwent a pioneering robotic heart surgery and was recovering at home just 2 days later. The patient was one of the first to have his damaged mitral valve repaired by the UK’s only robotic heart and lung surgery programme at Liverpool’s Heart & Chest Hospital. Add AI to this picture and you now have a winning duo set to change the landscape of surgery as we know it. One medical study that involved 379 orthopedic patients concluded that AI-assisted robotic operations resulted in five times fewer complications than medical procures led by human surgeons alone.
The Current State of the Robotic Surgery Platform
At present, the robotic surgery platform is dominated by the da Vinci system, which is now available in 4500 healthcare establishments worldwide. New developments are now rapidly emerging in the market thanks to robotic inventions by companies like Medtronic or partnerships like that of Alphabet and Johnson & Johnson, which has given birth to start-ups like Verb Surgical that aim to have robots connected to the internet by 2020 so that they can learn from each other.
Another noteworthy development is Versius, the world’s smallest surgical robot that mimics the human arm and carries out a wide range of laparoscopic procedures, including hernia repairs, colorectal operations and prostate including ear, nose and throat surgery. In fact, it is the first made-in-Britain surgical robot and is expected to receive a European health and safety approval mark.
All of these developments will make robots an essential feature in the operating theater in the near future; one can even expect robotic surgeons to become more involved in the healthcare requirements of individuals, which would require a communication link between them and their clients or users.