On World Health Day, Dr Sudhir P Srivastav, founder, SS Innovations shares his personal experience as a cardiothoracic surgeon, having performed over 1400 robotic cardiothoracic surgeries, and says that robotic surgery is more efficient and results in better patient outcomes
During the last 100 years, the medical world has witnessed rapid changes. Artificial intelligence enabled computer vision and data analytics have transformed health robotics, expanding capabilities into many other areas of healthcare.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and clinics began deploying robots for a much wider range of tasks to help reduce exposure to pathogens. It’s become clear that the operational efficiencies and risk reduction provided by health robotics offer value in many areas. Robots are now used not only in clinical settings to support health workers and enhance patient care but also in the operating rooms.
Emerging in the 1980s, the first robot in the medical field offered surgical assistance via robotic arm technologies. Since then, there have been fundamental changes in the way surgery is done. With the advances in robotics and surgical technology, one can now expect a very different surgery experience.
In this process, first laparoscopic surgery made the surgery experience less traumatic for the patient than traditional surgery, and then robotic surgery came as a boon for both doctors and patients. It has become a well-established fact that patients prefer minimally invasive surgery now.
The 1980s saw a revolution in the world of surgery with the advent of laparoscopy. Laparoscopic surgery is performed by making several small incisions on the patient’s body. A camera and small surgical instruments are inserted into the patient’s body. The surgeon can perform the surgery efficiently as he can see the inside of the body. This type of surgery is less painful, and the recovery time is also comparatively less. It further improves the aesthetic outcomes of the major surgery with a comparatively smaller scar as against a long incision scar from open surgery.
Laparoscopic procedures are associated with a wide range of patient benefits; however, many are highly complex and when performed manually, without the assistance of robotics, they can place a huge physical demand on surgeons.
Robotic surgery allows surgeons to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Unlike in traditional and laparoscopic surgeries, the surgeon does not hold surgical tools himself. The surgeon controls the arms while seated at a computer console near the operating table. The console gives the surgeon a high-definition, magnified, 3-D view of the surgical site. The surgeon leads other team members who assist during the operation.
Surgeons who use the robotic system find that for many procedures it enhances precision, flexibility and control during the operation and allows them to better see the site, compared with traditional techniques. Using robotic surgery, surgeons can perform delicate and complex procedures that may have been difficult or impossible with other methods. Also, it allows the surgeon to remain seated, minimising the physical strain on the operator and thus the risk for fatigue-related procedural errors.
Because robotic surgery is less invasive and more precise, the advantages for patients are numerous. Since it is performed with just a few small incisions; blood loss during surgery is reduced. There are fewer complications, such as surgical site infection and smaller, less noticeable scars. From a reduced length of time in hospital following surgery and a faster return to functional status to significantly reduced pain and trauma, it’s an enormous step forward for patient care.
From my personal experience as a cardiothoracic surgeon, having performed over 1400 robotic cardiothoracic surgeries, I can say that robotic surgery is more efficient and results in better patient outcomes.
However, despite decades of successful robotic-assisted surgeries globally that have positively impacted millions of patients, access is scarce at large. The cost of infrastructure, import of equipment, steep learning curve and maintenance of equipment contribute to the treatment costs.
Even in parts of the developed world, the availability of robotic surgery options remain in larger cities which means that in smaller cities a patient will have to travel in order to receive better surgical options.
The next-generation surgical robots will be designed to bridge this gap, helping more people around the world benefit from robotic surgery technology by making robotic surgery more cost-effective and practical than ever before.
Currently, over 140 companies and research institutions are working on various robotic systems. There are over 20 robotic systems that have been launched, but there are only a few that are being used in a clinical setting. In the next 3-4 years there will be an additional 10-15 companies emerging with respect to specialty specific technologies. Competition amongst such companies will spur innovation in robotic surgery and also result in competitive pricing of the systems.
In India, the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign is working to change the scenario. Now Indian companies are also coming forward in medical research, manufacturing of ultra-modern medical devices, and making state-of-the-art surgery equipment. These companies are developing sophisticated medical equipment at a much lower price than renowned foreign brands. Once robotic surgery equipment is manufactured in the country, then the price of such technology will go down. With this, not only the benefits of this state-of-the-art technology will reach the majority of people, but the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign will also get a new dimension. Robotic surgery is a phenomenal technological advancement that has transformed the way surgeries are done. Due to its unparalleled benefits and sweeping advantages, the future belongs to it.