Unlike industrial robots, surgical robots are not autonomous; they are actually a collection of wristed “servant” tools called manipulators, which receive digital instructions from an interfaced computer. The surgeon, who is seated at an ergonomically designed video console with a three-dimensional display, initiates the digital instructions by controlling sophisticated hand grips — essentially, joysticks with seven degrees of freedom. The manipulators inside the patient’s body duplicate the surgeon’s hand movements at the console, and software filters out even physiologic hand tremors.
Unaccommodating places are what robot-assisted surgery is all about. The human surgeon is not optimized for tiny spaces. The robot makes it much easier to spare nerves and maneuver through the small, sometimes rigid spaces of the human body.
In addition to small or narrow places in the human body, remote places in the world are often mentioned by those invoking the promise of robotic surgery. Some observers have called “Operation Lindbergh,” the first transatlantic cholecystectomy, nothing more than theater: a telesurgeon in New York robotically removed a gallbladder from a patient in Strasbourg, France — without complications.
Many doctors believe telesurgery might be a good way to distribute health care in the Third World, and NASA hasn’t forgotten about its potential for the proposed manned missions to the Moon and to Mars. Other visionaries in this field are seeing the future possibilities for robots in the medical realm. Just like so many other things in today’s technological world, surgery is going digital.
If you are considering surgery, schedule a consultation with Dr. Johnson. Find out if you might be a candidate for minimally invasive, robotic surgery.
Read more on this topic online at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp058233