Guest article written by Nicole Stevens.
While robots have been used in surgery for more than 35 years now, the last two decades have seen significant growth in the field. As noted in previous paper on “The History and Evolution of Robotic Surgery”, the platform known as “Robodoc” was first used for prosthetic hip replacements in 1992. For a time thereafter it was the only system of its kind cleared by the FDA for use in orthopedic surgery –– though it has since been joined by others. Stryker received FDA clearance to use its Mako robotic system for knee reconstruction in 2015; THINK Surgical followed in 2020 with an FDA nod for the second generation of its TSolution One Total Knee Application.
As these advances have been made in the orthopedic field, applications for robotic systems have progressed in other areas as well. This has led among other things to new and effective ways to treat chronic diseases.
Medical robots alleviate the workloads of medical professionals, which in turn enable nurses and doctors to spend more face time with patients. These robots also ensure healthcare workers’ and patients’ safety by transporting supplies and equipment that may pose a risk of pathogen exposure. Possibly the most impressive ability of modern surgical robots, however, is that of assisting with minimally invasive surgeries. These procedures are very common, but remain challenging for even the most skilled doctors due to the precision required. Robotic systems with specially designed digits and advanced capabilities now assist surgeons to make precise incisions with reduced likelihood of complications. As a result, patients with common chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes have access to better treatment and management options.
In the UK, cardiovascular and other circulatory diseases cause about 450 deaths every day, and 7.6 million people are currently living with a heart-related condition according to the British Heart Foundation. And while cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death around the world as well, people by and large remain vulnerable to the dangers; relatively sedentary lifestyles full of highly processed food and drinks continue to leave all too many in poor cardiovascular shape.
Fortunately, treatment and surgery have improved significantly over the years, with options such as robotic cardiac surgery improving patient outcomes. This is minimally invasive heart surgery conducted by a surgeon operating at a remote console. The surgeon is typically equipped with a highly magnified view of the heart and surrounding interview, and works within that view to direct robotic arms and instruments remotely. This method allows for smaller incisions, and is used for procedures such as coronary artery bypass, valve surgery, stent implantation, cardiac tissue ablation, and reparation of heart defects.
Particularly in recent years, many have actually come to feel slightly more optimistic about diabetes diagnoses. Awareness has spread regarding how certain lifestyle changes can improve conditions –– something that is notably and helpfully demonstrated by a number of famous figures. An article published by SymptomFind lists Vanessa Williams, Nick Jonas, and even Tom Hanks among prominent celebrities who have been inspirational to the diabetes community –– showing people that the condition does not always have to be dire.
Broadly speaking this is a positive change, because celebrity role models can inspire healthy changes. At the same time however, many do still experience more advanced, severe, and/or complicated cases. And in such cases, robotic surgical methods are proving to be useful in affecting more positive outcomes. From robotic pancreas transplants for obese Type 1 diabetics to bariatric surgery for weight loss, the technology is improving procedures that can make life-altering (and sometimes life-saving) changes for patients.
As with heart surgery, these robotic methods enable doctors to work with smaller incisions and less chance of error. A robotic pancreas transplant requires only a five-centimetre incision for the organ itself, with additional small incisions for the robotic arms; the method has made the procedure safer and enables more patients to pursue the option. Robotic bariatric surgery, meanwhile, is performed via the da Vinci system –– which similar to other robotic methods involves magnified images of the affected area, small incisions, and robotic instruments controlled by the doctor. The da Vinci system also has built-in technology to accommodate for slight tremors the part of the doctor.
While arthritis encompasses a number of subtypes, it mainly refers to the swelling and tenderness of joints that worsens with age. While there are quite a few treatments available –– each type of arthritis having its own options –– some work better than others. For instance, while some new drugs are now available for the 400,000 Britons suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and 150,000 with psoriatic arthritis, doctors continue to look for more permanent solutions for the condition.
When joints like the knees and hips completely succumb to arthritis and the pain becomes more debilitating, robot-assisted surgery now offers patients long-term relief. This is the area in which some of the aforementioned systems for orthopedic surgery are used. While different systems work in different ways, the primary benefit of robotic applications is accuracy with regard to the removal and replacement of bone and cartilage. Pre-surgery scans produce exact plans, and systems guide doctors to ensure adherence to those plans. This makes surgical procedures more precise, such that no more material is removed than necessary, and replacements are fitted into place as needed.
Doctors may also recommend procedures such as a synovectomy for removing diseased synovium; an osteotomy for correcting bone deformities; or arthrodesis, the fusion of bones that sacrifices flexibility for stability and pain management. All of these procedures, too, can be performed with the assistance of medical robots.
The examples listed above cover only some of the many ways in which outlooks for chronic conditions are improving. Regardless, they make it clear that the medical field has a bright future ahead with regard robotic assistance, and there is new hope for patients with conditions that were previously more difficult to treat or manage.