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Are medical robots safe? A short introduction to robotic surgery

Until the last few decades, medical surgery required incisions that were painful for the patient and difficult to perform for the surgeon. Nowadays, hospitals tend to prefer robotic surgery when they treat the patients. According to most medics, when a medical robot is used in the surgery room, the medical operation is more effective, the body will be minimum invaded and the patient will recover faster. New robots in this field are very precise, they can work with miniaturized organs, they will produce very small incisions when they penetrate the body and the patient feels less pain.

If we are to look at the history of medical robots we will find out that first medical surgery performed with the most praised such device (da Vinci) was a pancreatectomy, back in 2007. The same team of medics who performed that operation went further in April 2008, when they managed to collect a big part of a liver from a donor, in the same time allowing him to go back home few days later, in great condition and with lower post-operative symptoms.

DaVinci - medical robot

So far, medical robots like da Vinci , Puma or ViRob have made brain surgeries or cancer surgery a lot safer for the patient, and a lot facile to perform for the surgeon in charge. For example, the da Vinci robot has been largely praised as a huge step forward for the minimally invasive surgical operations. Thanks to the entire setup (the comfortable chair, remote-controlled arms, 3-D high-definition camera), surgeons can perform difficult operations through small incisions in the body with greater precision than ever, with advanced instrumentation and lower blood loss.

In 2011, the da Vinci robot was used in almost 1000 hospitals in US, and in 2012 it was used in 400,000 surgeries nationwide. With all these large numbers, even advanced medical robots like da Vinci can fail sometimes. At least five deaths were reported, allegedly linked to the use of this particular medical robot. Also, there were reported strange cases where a robot’s arm malfunctioned or where it acted chaotically by itself. The technology is still new, and more research is needed before getting to a definitive conclusion. But, as many health blogs have observed, large marketing scheme was included when this robot was promoted into hospitals. The robot is really expensive (over 1 million dollars), and when large amounts of money are involved, corporations tend to cover up negative results. I’m not saying that this is the case here, but it should be taken into consideration.


Are medical robots safe?
Even if rare cases were spotted where da Vinci failed and few patients died, the number of successful surgeries is definitely higher than failed ones. Robots like PUMA 200 are used ever since 1985 with positive results in brain surgery, doing the steady work that no human can do. Also, let’s not forget that the human element is also included when performing a surgery with a medical robot, so even if the robot performs flawless, the human (surgeon) behind the controls does all the thinking and commands the robotic arms. A patient must check So far, the system proved to work great, and if one has to choose between conventional surgery and robotic surgery, should probably opt for the second one. I know I would…