Understanding Robotic Surgery

Over the years as a writer, I’ve written a lot about surgeries for the stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder and one of the things every procedure had in common was the use of minimally invasive surgery assisted by a robot.

Unable to simply say ‘that’s cool’ and then move on, this time I decided to look into what made robotic-assisted surgery so great and why it was being used for not just complex procedures but also simple ones.

Why it’s used

Remember how I said that the surgeries assisted by the robot were minimally invasive? That’s one of the reasons it’s so popular today because it allows more surgeries to be done with smaller cuts and less hospital time for patients, allowing for someone to come in, have the surgery done, and then leave once the operation is done.

Most robotic surgery, which consists of two or four robotic arms controlled by a computer that the doctor operates, allows a camera to get inside the body so the doctor can make precise cuts without having to open the body with a major incision.

Doctors are also able to control the movements of the arms with a degree of precision that human hands just can’t achieve, resulting in a reduction of mistakes or human error from harming nerves or other factors. The human doctor is also able to take over from the robot if something does go wrong.

The future of robotic surgery

So if human controlled robot surgery is already commonly being used and even has clearance in the European Union, what’s the next step to creating a fully robotic surgeon?

One of the biggest issues that separate humankind from machines is our brain. We’re able to think on our feet and put new plans into action almost instantaneously, while robots have to be programmed and can only do a limited number of procedures.

Having robots that are programmed with thousands of variables and situations for every single patient will not only take a lot of time, but it’s also impossible to think of every single concern or scenario a patient might have.

Every nerd’s fear

Which leads to a much bigger question, one that countless science fiction fans including myself, have asked. What happens if something does go wrong? With the current situations we have now, humans are either controlling the robots or watching over them if they are automated, stepping in if the robots make a mistake.

But if fully automated robots cause trouble either by being hacked or having other situations occur, it leads to a serious question of who watches the watchers? Who watches the robots if something goes wrong?

While humans are taking steps to get closer to cost-effective, highly efficient surgical machines, we also need to be sure these automations can adapt to new situations and process the data effectively. A strong level of control and supervision over the robots will also be required to ensure they do more good than harm.