The demand for medical care drives up costs significantly. U.S. healthcare spending is predicted to rise by over 5% in 2018, reaching over $5 trillion by 2026. Can medical robots alleviate the concern of limited healthcare access for all? Enter the da Vinci robotic surgeon, a breakthrough in medical technology.
In the world of technology, innovations often capture our attention briefly before fading away. However, the da Vinci medical robot, introduced in 2014, has not vanished into obscurity. Unlike the droids of Star Wars, da Vinci is a real and functional device used by doctors.
Although the concept of medical robots may evoke images of futuristic droids, da Vinci’s appearance is quite different. It has already been utilized in thousands of surgeries, demonstrating its practicality.
To witness the da Vinci medical robot in action, watch a 2014 YouTube video showing it delicately peeling the skin of a grape. The precision and control showcased in the video are equally applicable in actual surgeries performed on patients.
With over 2700 da Vinci robots installed in the U.S. and hundreds more worldwide, who benefits from this robotic surgeon?
- Specialized Operations: Men often choose da Vinci for prostate surgery, while a growing number of hysterectomy operations for women are also performed using the robot.
- Faster Patient Recovery: The robot’s precision and small incisions enable quicker healing, allowing patients to resume their regular activities sooner.
- Improved Medical Training: The da Vinci robot’s advanced control and imaging capabilities make it an invaluable tool for medical training, potentially increasing the number of skilled physicians.
Robot-assisted surgical procedures have played a role in medical practice for over thirty years. Neurosurgeons utilized the machine called Puma 560 in 1985 for biopsies. Since then, technology, especially in cameras and imaging, has advanced further.
The da Vinci Medical Robot is classified as a “robot,” but it operates under the guidance and supervision of human surgeons. Describing it as a 21st-century medical tool may be more accurate. Skilled surgeons are essential for maximizing its value. Nevertheless, the widespread adoption of the da Vinci robot encounters challenges related to policies and costs.
The da Vinci’s limited commonality is partly due to its cost. A 2017 ruling in Canada discouraged public funding for robots, citing insufficient evidence that robot-assisted radical prostatectomy is superior to conventional open surgery in cancer control and preserving urinary and sexual function. While the robot offers additional benefits like smaller incisions, reduced blood loss, less pain, and quicker hospital stays, these advantages do not sufficiently justify the extra cost, which can exceed $3,224 per case.
The high cost remains a significant barrier to broader adoption. This cost concern has not gone unnoticed, prompting the exploration of alternative options. Among these alternatives is the FlexDex, a device created by University of Michigan researchers in 2017. Priced at $500, it is based on the same principles as the da Vinci, enhancing a human surgeon’s capabilities through technology. The significant cost difference illustrates that robotics is not the sole pathway to improving surgical services.
Final Thoughts on Medical Robots
The da Vinci medical device has significantly improved medical outcomes for patients. However, it does not function as an autonomous robot like the ones featured at CES 2017 for autonomous vehicles. Artificial surgeons still encounter social and legal challenges.
Nonetheless, the da Vinci will influence future robotics advancements in two ways. Firstly, its use of high-quality imaging holds significant potential. Secondly, robotics designers must prioritize cost considerations to achieve mass appeal for their creations.