Robotic surgery involves the use of remote-controlled, precision instruments to replace a surgeon’s hands, and conventional tools. Robotic surgery is a reality today and already enhances the abilities of a conventional surgeon. A robotic surgeon sits at a console a few feet away from the patient and controls the robotic surgical instruments through joysticks.
Incisions in robotic surgery are small, precise, and very steady. This means less bleeding and trauma, reduced chances of infection, and quicker patient recovery. Errors because of surgeon fatigue are eliminated. A major application is in cardiac surgery. Robotics makes it possible to work on the heart while it continues to beat. Conventional surgery requires the heart to be stopped while it is repaired.
Robotic surgery has a long way to go and research is in progress to remove its handicaps. A major issue is that the surgeon has still to be in the vicinity of the patient. Robotic instruments can be controlled over long distances through optic fiber cables. However, the time lag in such a system between the robotic surgeon giving a command through a joystick and the action of the robot can be significant and may harm the patient.
Loss of power as in an electrical failure is a related concern. The development of wireless commands for robots will remove these bottlenecks and make it reasonably safe for robotic surgeons to operate over vast distances. Robotic surgery will be possible across nations, deep under the sea and in outer space.
Such robotic surgery through real-time, wireless controls will need the presence of specially trained personnel near the patient, who can take over in an emergency and who can help the surgeon at the remote location. Remote surgery through robotics has legal and ethical issues that have to be resolved before the technology is put to work.
Robotic surgery works through the sense of vision. A robotic surgeon has the advantage of magnified vision enabling sight of things out of reach of the human eye. However, surgeons also rely on the sense of touch. Robotic surgery in future will include sensors to enable a surgeon feel the strength and nature of the tissue being manipulated and cut.
Robotic surgery has been developed independently of imaging technologies based on magnetic resonance. The latter makes it possible to look inside a body without cutting it open. It also extends the range of human vision to chemical processes within the body.
Work is in progress to merge the technology of robotics with that of imaging so that it will be possible to detect malfunctions within the body and to correct them in time, in a manner that is significantly better than at present.
Conventional surgery requires a rather large team of people. Some hold instruments, others manipulate the body and still others control lights and ventilation inside the operation theater.
Robotic surgery with voice commands will enable surgeons to do their work with fewer assistants. They will be able to change and to control conditions directly at the same time as they work the joysticks.
Robots will not replace human intelligence, skill, and experience in the foreseeable future. They will however significantly extend human ability and robotic surgery will continue to advance frontiers of medical science.