The technological progress in robotics of the 21st century truly affected a lot of spheres of people’s life. Concerning medicine, robotic-assisted surgery was firstly approved in 2000, which led to its rapid expansion globally (Ahmad et al. 2017). By 2017, the use of robotic surgery had increased 10 to 40 times compared to basic laparoscopic surgery in general surgical procedures (Chen et al. 2020). Some procedures are implemented mostly entirely through robots’ assistance. For example, 85% of laparoscopic prostatectomy procedures in the United States are implemented with robotic assistance (Robotic Surgery: Risks vs. Rewards 2017). Therefore, robotic surgery has become such an influential phenomenon that it needs proper analysis and discussion. Although there are some evident benefits of robotic-assisted surgeries, the risks associated with their usage make the scientific community focus on the possible technological improvements and surgical education for medical staff.
Benefits of the Robotic Surgery
Robotic surgery is an alternative to standard laparoscopy, which has its own strength and benefits. Robotic-assisted surgery replicates the benefits of laparoscopic surgery but adds the core benefits of improved ergonomics and dexterity (Robotic Surgery: Risks vs. Rewards 2017). In other words, robots make the operation itself more efficient and provide opportunities for more detailed and accurate incisions. Further through the article, the authors mention other benefits such as “decreased blood loss, shorter hospital stays, faster return to work, improved cosmesis, and lower incidence of some surgical complications” (Robotic Surgery: Risks vs. Rewards 2017, p. 186). In fact, these factors are mostly related to short-term benefits while there is little evidence of long-term outcomes.
It is also interesting for the academic community tendency that people seem to be optimistic about the strength of robotic-assisted surgeries. Ahmed et al. (2017) conducted comprehensive surveys with surgical patients, healthcare providers, and senior members of hospital administration and realized that their view on robots’ assistance has little to do with scientific evidence. People prefer attributing the robots to some positive traits concerning lower infection rates, shorter lengths of hospital stays, and decreased blood loss, while scientists cannot find such correlations in their studies (Ahmed 2017). Thus, medical students must focus on the possible risks of robot surgery assistance rather than diving into the underexplored topic of robot benefits.
Risks of the Robotic Surgery
Before discussing the risk, it is beneficial to devote some attention to the complications of robotic-assisted surgeries. Firstly, the operational cost of robot assistance is high, so many hospitals cannot afford to use robots regularly (Kassite 2018). Secondly, Kassite (2018) admits that the lack of standardized techniques makes education quite complicated. Thirdly, it is often the case when some robot for surgery has its own limitations, so it is extremely difficult to find a robot system that will be perfectly constructed. For example, Flex Robotic System, an effective tool for transoral robotic surgeries, has specific limitations such as “rigid robotic arms, a limited number of cutting devices, and high costs” (Mattheis et al. 2016). Such kind of arguments can be made about other surgery robots in a deeper analysis of their characteristics.
Concerning risks, scientists concerned with robotic-assisted surgeries should pay a lot of attention to the cases of the robots’ assistance failures and compare them with laparoscopy. In the article “Robotic Surgery: Risks vs. Rewards” (2017), the authors discuss the case of 66 years old man whose operation with the use of robotic assistance was complicated by mechanical problems during the procedure. The robot performed unexpected errors and was unstable in its decisions. As a result, the patient faced serious health disorders in the future. This case directs the research to the discussion of not only short-term but long-term risks of robotic-assisted surgeries.
However, the deeper literature analysis of texts discussing risks of complications gives some encouraging ideas. Ahmad et al. (2017) conducted an analysis of the literature concentrated on the possible risks of robotic-assisted surgeries and concluded that there is no statistically significant difference contrasting with traditional laparoscopic prostatectomy. What is more, some studies show that the risk factor is lower in urological and colorectal procedures with robots’ assistance than in human-made procedures (Ahmed 2017). Therefore, the academic community needs to focus on particular cases of failures because, on average, the practice of robotic-assisted surgeries shows a similar rate of complications to laparoscopic prostatectomy.
The Peculiarities of the Learning Process
The scientific community has a critical impact on the creation of valuable resources for the preparation of specialists trained in the use of robots in surgeries. For example, the Fundamentals of Robotic Surgery is an online program that provides information and training that prepare for the safe performance of robotic surgeries (Chen et al., 2020). Also, there are programs specifically for the da Vinci surgical robotic system, surgical robotic training simulators, and scientific conferences dedicated to the training of professionals in robotic-assisted surgeries (Chen et al. 2020). All these online programs, web-based curricula, and stimulators provide enough training for medical staff.
Robotic-assisted surgery will soon become the indispensable procedure method in almost all hospitals. It improves the previously existing techniques by adding more accuracy and efficiency to the operations. However, the world cannot afford to increase the number of robotic devices because of the great device prices and operational costs. What is more, the long-term risks are not explored enough to warrant abandoning conventional laparoscopic prostatectomy. Nevertheless, the progress in technologies will certainly fix the issues of robotic-assisted surgery, so the scientific community needs to broaden the number of efficient programs for the preparation of specialists in robots for surgeries.
Ahmad, A., Ahmad, Z. F., Carleton, J. D., & Agarwala, A. (2017). Robotic surgery: Current perceptions and the clinical evidence. Surgical Endoscopy, 31(1), 255–263. Web.
Chen, R., Rodrigues Armijo, P., Krause, C., Siu, K.-C., Oleynikov, D. & SAGES Robotic Task Force. (2020). A comprehensive review of robotic surgery curriculum and training for residents, fellows, and postgraduate surgical education. Surgical Endoscopy, 34(1), 361–367. Web.
Kassite, I., Bejan-Angoulvant, T., Lardy, H., & Binet, A. (2019). A systematic review of the learning curve in robotic surgery: Range and heterogeneity. Surgical Endoscopy, 33(2), 353–365. Web.
Mattheis, S., Hasskamp, P., Holtmann, L., Schäfer, C., Geisthoff, U., Dominas, N., & Lang, S. (2017). Flex Robotic System in transoral robotic surgery: The first 40 patients. Head & Neck, 39(3), 471–475. Web.
Robotic Surgery: Risks vs. Rewards. (2017). AORN Journal, 106(2), 186–157. Web.