American Consequences - September 2018

Technology has given us robots that are able to make excellent surgeons even better. The surgical robot is the next giant leap in medicine. It allows surgeons to have better dexterity in smaller spaces with smaller incisions. Dr. Yuman Fong – chair and professor of the Department of Surgery, director of the Center for International Medicine, and surgeon – had this to say last year... We are now at a pivotal point in the field when a technology is about to transform from a tool for innovators and experts to a tool for general practitioners. Robotic surgery is here. Over the past 14 years, more than 1.8 million robotic procedures have taken place in the U.S. Surgeons now use robotics for surgical specialties like prostate cancer, heart problems, colon cancer, and many more. This trend is just getting started. About 51 million inpatient surgeries happen each year in the U.S. Almost all are open surgical procedures – meaning that the surgery is done through large openings in the skin, muscle, and bone. Compared to open surgery, robotic surgery has many advantages for both surgeon and patient... It seems intuitive: If a doctor doesn’t have to open you up, it’s far less stressful on your body. Consider heart surgery like Ron had, for example. Doctors don’t have to crack open your sternum. In contrast, robotic surgery makes smaller incisions through your ribcage,

placing far less stress on your body and reducing the risk of infection (more on that in a minute). Ron was back at work within a week of his operation. Recovery time matters. Open heart surgery leaves patients with massive scars that resemble a zipper. But you can hardly see the three tiny scars left on Ron’s chest and ribcage. That may sound cosmetic, but it’s a huge benefit for recovery. Open surgery also means reduced access to the surgical area. Putting a doctor’s hands or long instruments into tiny spaces inside the human body limits what they can do. And it certainly limits what doctors can see. With robotic surgery, the cameras, surgical tools, and software combine to produce the best possible scenario for the surgeon. He can perform better than if he cuts the patient open. The surgeon can “feel with his eyes” because of the high-definition 3-D cameras that show him what is happening inside the patient, in real time. He has the same dexterity inside the patient and more freedom of movement. He can deliver the perfect surgery more often. Then there’s fatigue. How long is the operation? How many operations can one surgeon do in a day, week, or month? What if the surgeon gets hand tremors during the operation as he tires? Depending on the operation, one nick of the scalpel in the wrong place could be fatal. Surgeons do extraordinary work. We respect and admire their skillset and profession. But they are human. Robots don’t tire.

It seems intuitive: If a doctor doesn’t have to open you up, it’s far less stressful on your body.

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