Robotic surgery, computer-assisted surgery, and robotically-assisted surgery are terms for technological developments that use robotic systems to aid in surgical procedures. Robotically-assisted surgery was developed to overcome the limitations of minimally-invasive surgery and to enhance the capabilities of surgeons performing open surgery. In the case of robotically-assisted minimally-invasive surgery, instead of directly moving the instruments, the surgeon uses one of five methods to control the instruments; either a direct telemanipulator or through computer control.
A telemanipulator is a remote manipulator that allows the surgeon to perform the normal movements associated with the surgery whilst the robotic arms carry out those movements using end-effectors and manipulators to perform the actual surgery on the patient. In computer-controlled systems the surgeon uses a computer to control the robotic arms and its end-effectors, though these systems can also still use telemanipulators for their input. One advantage of using the computerised method is that the surgeon does not have to be present, but can be anywhere in the world, leading to the possibility for remote surgery.
In the case of enhanced open surgery, autonomous instruments (in familiar configurations) replace traditional steel tools, performing certain actions (such as rib spreading) with much smoother, feedback-controlled motions than could be achieved by a human hand. The main object of such smart instruments is to reduce or eliminate the tissue trauma traditionally associated with open surgery without requiring more than a few minutes’ training on the part of surgeons. This approach seeks to improve open surgeries, particularly cardio-thoracic, that have so far not benefited from minimally-invasive techniques.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES Major advances aided by surgical robots have been remote surgery, minimally invasive surgery and unmanned surgery. Due to robotic use, the surgery is done with precision, miniaturization, smaller incisions, decreased blood loss, less pain, and quicker healing time. Articulation beyond normal manipulation and three-dimensional magnification helps resulting in improved ergonomics. Due to these techniques there is a reduced duration of hospital stays, blood loss, transfusions, and use of pain medication.
The robot normally costs $1,390,000 and while its disposable supply cost is normally $1,500 per procedure, the cost of the procedure is higher. Additional surgical training is needed to operate the system. Numerous feasibility studies have been done to determine whether the purchase of such systems are worthwhile. As it stands, opinions differ dramatically. Surgeons report that, although the manufacturers of such systems provide training on this new technology, the learning phase is intensive and surgeons must operate on twelve to eighteen patients before they adapt.
Moreover during the training phase, minimally invasive operations can take up to twice as long as traditional surgery, leading to operating room tie ups and surgical staffs keeping patients under anesthesia for longer periods. Patient surveys indicate they chose the procedure based on expectations of decreased morbidity, improved outcomes, reduced blood loss and less pain. Higher expectations may explain higher rates of dissatisfaction and regret. Advantages of this technique are that the incisions are small and patient recovery is quick.
In traditional open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes a ten to twelve-inch incision, then gains access to the heart by splitting the sternum (breast bone) and spreading open the rib cage. The patient is then placed on a heart-lung machine and the heart is stopped for a period of time during the operation. This approach can be associated with postoperative infection and pain, and prolonged time to complete recovery. Because patient recovery after robot-assisted heart surgery is quicker, the hospital stay is shorter.
On average patients leave the hospital two to five days earlier than patients who have undergone traditional open-heart surgery and return to work and normal activity 50% more quickly. Reduced recovery times are not only better for the patient, they also reduce the number of staff needed during surgery, nursing care required after surgery, and, therefore, the overall cost of hospital stays.  Compared with other minimally invasive surgery approaches, robot-assisted surgery gives the surgeon better control over the surgical instruments and a better view of the surgical site.
In addition, surgeons no longer have to stand throughout the surgery and do not tire as quickly. Naturally occurring hand tremors are filtered out by the robot’s computer software. Finally, the surgical robot can continuously be used by rotating surgery teams. Critics of the system say there is a steep learning curve for surgeons who adopt use of the system and that there’s a lack of studies that indicate long-term results are superior to results following traditional laparoscopic surgery. Articles in the newly created Journal of Robotic Surgery tend to report on one surgeon’s experience.
A Medicare study found that some procedures that have traditionally been performed with large incisions can be converted to “minimally invasive” endoscopic procedures with the use of the Da Vinci, shortening length-of-stay in the hospital and reducing recovery times. But because of the hefty cost of the robotic system it is not clear that it is cost-effective for hospitals and physicians despite any benefits to patients since there is no additional reimbursement paid by the government or insurance companies when the system is used.
APPLICATIONS General surgery In early 2000 the field of general surgical interventions with the daVinci device was explored by surgeons at Ohio State University. Reports were published in esophageal and pancreatic surgery for the first time in the world and further data was subsequently published by Horgan and his group at the University of Illinois and then later at the same institution by others. In 2007, the University of Illinois at Chicago medical team, led by Prof.
Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti, reported a pancreatectomy and also the Midwest’s first fully robotic Whipple surgery. In April 2008, the same team of surgeons performed the world’s first fully minimally invasive liver resection for living donor transplantation, removing 60% of the patient’s liver, yet allowing him to leave the hospital just a couple of days after the procedure, in very good condition. Furthermore the patient can also leave with less pain than a usual surgery due to the four puncture holes and not a scar by a surgeon.
Robot-assisted MIDCAB and Endoscopic coronary artery bypass (TECAB) operations are being performed with the da Vinci system. Mitral valve repairs and replacements have been performed. East Carolina University, Greenville (Dr W. Randolph Chitwood), Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta (Dr Douglas A. Murphy), and Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati (Dr J. Michael Smith) have popularized this procedure and proved its durability with multiple publications.
Since the first robotic cardiac procedure performed in the USA in 1999, The Ohio State University, Columbus (Dr. Robert E. Michler, Dr. Juan Crestanello, Dr. Paul Vesco) has performed CABG, mitral valve, esophagectomy, lung resection, tumor resections, among other robotic assisted procedures and serves as a training site for other surgeons. In 2002, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in Florida (Dr. Douglas Boyd and Kenneth Stahl) reported and published their preliminary experience with minimally invasive “hybrid” procedures.
These procedures combined robotic revascularization and coronary stenting and further expanded the role of robots in coronary bypass to patients with disease in multiple vessels. Ongoing research on the outcomes of robotic assisted CABG and hybrid CABG is being done by Dr. Robert Poston. The Stereotaxis Magnetic Navigation System (MNS) has been developed to increase precision and safety in ablation procedures for arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation while reducing radiation exposure for the patient and physician, and the system utilizes two magnets to remotely steerable catheters.
The system allows for automated 3-D mapping of the heart and vasculature, and MNS has also been used in interventional cardiology for guiding stents and leads in PCI and CTO procedures, proven to reduce contrast usage and access tortuous anatomy unreachable by manual navigation. Dr. Andrea Natale has referred to the new Stereotaxis procedures with the magnetic irrigated catheters as “revolutionary. ” The Hansen Medical Sensei robotic catheter system uses a remotely operated system of pulleys to navigate a steerable sheath for catheter guidance.
It allows precise and more forceful positioning of catheters used for 3-D mapping of the heart and vasculature. The system provides doctors with estimated force feedback information and feasible manipulation within the left atrium of the heart. The Sensei has been associated with mixed acute success rates compared to manual, commensurate with higher procedural complications, longer procedure times but lower fluoroscopy dosage to the patient. At present, three types of heart surgery are being performed on a routine basis using robotic surgery systems.
These three surgery types are: Atrial septal defect repair – the repair of a hole between the two upper chambers of the heart, Mitral valve repair – the repair of the valve that prevents blood from regurgitating back into the upper heart chambers during contractions of the heart, Coronary artery bypass – rerouting of blood supply by bypassing blocked arteries that provide blood to the heart. As surgical experience and robotic technology develop, it is expected that the applications of robots in cardiovascular surgery will expand.