Will robot surgeon lead to better heart surgery?
In the medical field, you mainly hear about new drugs or vaccines. But there’s actually a lot more innovation apart from new just medicines. Robotic surgery is something which has been explored for many years. As a result, it’s been undergoing constant development. In this post, you’ll be learning about the world’s first self-navigating robot surgeon. This is a new step forward within the field of robotic surgery. Therefore, it will surely be put to the test to see how good it actually is.
Now, considering that this is nowhere near ‘ready’ yet, it might be a bit early to start making assumptions. However, it’s still worth talking about anyway. So, to start with, we’ll look at what this robot surgeon really is. But more specifically, how it’s different from other surgical robot systems. Then after, we’ll see how it could change the game for patient operations. Let’s get to it!
Trying out a new surgical robot machine
This robot surgeon has been developed by bioengineers at Boston Children’s Hospital. Along with them, were researchers from Harvard Medical School. The robot itself isn’t a machine-like creature as you might expect. Rather, it’s actually just a simple catheter. But this is definitely not an ordinary catheter. It has the ability to navigate its own way through the body to a target destination. The robot has a camera which enables it to collect visual cues for navigation. It also has special touch sensors to make sense of its surrounding environment. An anatomical map combined with internal body images allows the sensors to figure out what part of the body it’s in. This is all done by machine learning and AI systems.
To get a ‘taste’ of it, the research team performed a simulated heart operation. This involved closing up a leaking aorta. Now, obviously, they wouldn’t do this on a real human. So, they build a dummy artery and valve network instead. With this in place, they then set up the catheter robot surgeon to do its work. The catheter was able to directly navigate its way to the location of the leak. They then conducted this same experiment on pigs. Once again, the catheter was able to reach its target destination. Yes, that was a single aortic valve leak in a living, beating heart. In fact, the robot surgeon was able to navigate itself just as well as a human doctor. For a first trial, that’s just plain impressive.
Using robots for surgery
When performing an operation, there are always going to be risks. It doesn’t matter how well-trained/experienced the surgeons are. Mistakes can always happen and do occur from time to time. This robot surgeon performed just as well as a human doctor. Therefore, it has the potential to do just as good a job as a human surgeon. Let’s face it, this was just an initial test. So, when it has been refined and developed, it will only get better. The goal is to use robots like this to perform operations in the future. A pre-programmed robot like this would keep human error to a bare minimum. This would, therefore, make surgery much, much safer.
But some argue that it’s far too early to start using them outright for surgery. Much like self-driving cars, robot surgery is something which is still being developed. This is just another step forward in the discipline of robotic surgery. Self-driving cars aren’t even entirely safe and have been linked to numerous road accidents. But driving a car isn’t nearly as complex as operating a living person. Let’s be honest for a moment here. If YOU had to undergo an operation, would you allow a robot do it?? I wouldn’t because it hasn’t proven itself effective enough to take the risk. A robot that’s going to operate a human being would need a failure rate of less than 0.005%!! Surgical robots have been responsible for dozens of deaths. So, using them for surgeries now isn’t a smart plan.
Will robots replace doctors?
However, doctors can certainly use robots to assist in their operations. For example, a robot surgeon can conduct specific parts of an operation. Then afterwards, the doctors can do the rest manually. That’s probably a good place to start from. It would allow the robot surgeon to prove its real-world effectiveness within a clinical setting. Over time, the robots can then be programmed to do more and more complex tasks. Now, some people wonder if a robot surgeon could completely replace human doctors. Well, that could happen in theory, but in reality, I don’t think it ever will.
The need for a human medical professional can never be discarded. Humans are composed of both physical and spiritual components. Therefore, we have certain things that machines can never have. This includes intuition, emotions, moral judgement etc. You can’t programme that into a robot. So, a human doctor will always need to be present on standby. At least to oversee everything and focus on other related assignments. If something went wrong with the robots, it would be an absolute disaster. If no one was around to step in, it would be complete mayhem. The machines could even end up killing the patient!
That’s why a human doctor will always be needed. They’ll be in a position to “switch off” the robots and intervene if an accident occurred. Don’t think robots can get out of control if their programming went wrong? Check out the old Will Smith film, i-robot. When the robots become defective, it leads to complete and utter madness. But at least the robots there weren’t doing surgeries. Thank God for that.
Bridging the ‘experience’ gap
A robot surgeon will definitely make operations easier for doctors. This is yet another benefit that they’ll bring. A plane’s autopilot system might take control of flying, but that doesn’t mean the pilot can go to sleep. Similarly, doctors will still be involved, but with a far lighter workload. This should then allow them to focus on more complex assignments. One final advantage of using robots is that it will even out gaps in experience. A team of medical professionals could be working together on a specific assignment. In this case, it’s probably going to be a surgical operation.
Now, some doctors will inevitably be more experienced than others. However, the less experienced doctors aren’t any less competent. They just haven’t had as much exposure as their more senior colleagues. When you use a robot surgeon or a team of them, it completely eliminates this problem. Each robot can be programmed in exactly the same way to do any particular task. That still applies whether it came out of the factory one week, or one year ago! Consequently, patients no longer have to worry about ‘inexperienced’ doctors treating them.
Surgeons often use catheters for heart surgery. So, an autonomous robot like this should certainly make the procedure much smoother. For now, it just needs to undergo further checks and development. They can then start by using it just for surgical navigational purposes. This would be a safe way to introduce it into service. But even then, it will still be a long time before robots are doing solo patient surgeries…