Brave New Ward: Will Robots Replace Surgeons?
Robots are continuing to take more roles in our workforce, whether it be assisting drivers, factory workers or other jobs that have been historically performed by humans. In the near future, surgeons may be assisted by autonomous robots to carry out highly complex medical procedures with perfect accuracy.
For almost two decades, da Vinci machines have helped surgeons carry out surgical procedures. Da Vinci machines use robotic arms to help guide surgeons, but they are not autonomous. New technologies are far more exciting.
Researchers associated with Children’s National Health System (CNHS) and Johns Hopkins University recently performed open bowel surgery on pigs using autonomous robotic equipment. The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) can help surgeons perform operations that would otherwise be highly risky and difficult. STAR can use three-dimensional imaging and night vision to perform surgeries in the dark. It can see through and read the temperature of soft tissue. Most shockingly, STAR can adapt to a changing environment and react accordingly.
Although the equipment is capable of performing surgeries on its own, surgeons still keep a close eye on procedures, just in case something goes wrong.
Are Robot Surgeons More Effective Than Humans?
To test the effectiveness of STAR, the researchers stitched together pieces of intestinal tubing in pigs. STAR performed all surgeries successfully without making errors. Even more surprising, 60 percent of the surgeries conducted on pigs were completely autonomous. Surgeons watched, but did not interfere.
Researchers claim STAR could reduce the likelihood of wrong-site surgery errors, leaving equipment in patients and other common surgical mistakes. Robots do not experience mental or physical fatigue and they can perform many complex calculations simultaneously with perfect accuracy.
In the next few decades, it is possible that autonomous robots will become more commonplace in operating rooms around the country. Whether or not they will replace surgeons is open to speculation.