Will robots operate in the future

Robots in the operating room

Science fiction - or what?

It looks like a scene from a science fiction film: a person is lying on the operating table, the anesthesia works perfectly. Now is the time for the surgeon. But instead of an experienced doctor, a robot leans over the patient.

High-tech arms buzz around in the air. They insert surgical tools into the sleeper's body. There they cut, repair and sew. An experienced surgeon is also in the operating room, but he is a few meters away.

Robots in operating theaters have long been a reality. And not only that, some systems have even become obsolete. However, the development towards automated operations is only just beginning. All experts agree: Surgery will become more and more technical in the future.

Technological progress is also penetrating the operating rooms more and more and one day it will be indispensable there. Robots and computers will increasingly help doctors and thus become indispensable assistants. Because robots can do things that even experienced surgeons cannot.

This already reveals the crucial point: The machines become indispensable assistants and nothing more. Today it is still inconceivable that the medical staff only prepares the patient for the operation (OP), performs the anesthesia and a robot does the rest. Far too many decisions have to be made during an operation.

In addition, years of medical experience cannot simply be translated into any programming language and then fed to the steely colleagues.

The famous steady hand

The help that robotic surgeons can provide starts with very simple things. For example, they are used during minimally invasive procedures. These are operations in which only extremely small cuts are made.

During these interventions, a second doctor always has to hold the endoscope, a device that can be used to insert a small camera into the patient and thus look inside the patient's body. But a robot can do that too, and even better. After all, he can hold the endoscope without trembling and does not even get tired.

Especially with these minimally invasive interventions, another advantage of the robots can be of great help. Because robots can easily convert the doctor's movements to another order of magnitude. For example, if the surgeon moves the joystick on the control console by one centimeter, the computer can convert this movement so that the robot arm then only moves exactly one millimeter.

This makes it possible to make the smallest cuts with the highest precision. Interventions accurate to a tenth of a millimeter are possible. Cuts that would otherwise hardly be conceivable, even with a lot of experience and absolute concentration.

The perfect addition to computers and robots

The steel colleagues can also help with much more fundamental tasks. It sounds a bit strange, but it is not always 100 percent certain for a surgeon where exactly he is in the patient's body.

Has the scalpel already reached the tumor? And how far is the artery that he must not injure under any circumstances? Could it be that an adjacent bone is preventing the scalpel from cutting? In solving these problems, computers and robots can be useful in several ways.

At the beginning of the perfect preparation there is the exact measurement of the body region to be operated on. With the help of computed tomography, for example, an organ that is attacked by a tumor can be measured very precisely. Computers can then compute a three-dimensional image from this, which is immensely helpful for the surgeon during the operation.

But that's not all: A camera in the operating room then monitors the exact position of the surgical instruments. Small reflectors on the instruments continuously transmit this information to a computer. In this way, the doctor can see at any moment where he is touching the patient.

In addition, a robot monitors the surgeon's incision. If the operator should make the cut just a little too far to the left or right, the machine immediately switches off the surgical device. It takes a person a whopping 0.8 seconds to react to something, the famous moment of shock. A robot is a lot faster there. In this way he can save the doctor from making a mistake and the patient from serious harm.

Robots can also make mistakes

New technologies are always accompanied by high expectations, including, of course, the introduction of the first surgical robots. But expectations that are too high are inevitably disappointed. There has already been some disillusionment in this area as well. And not only that, but unfortunately serious injuries as well.

Example Robodoc. In the 1990s, this colleague was in more than a hundred German operating theaters. It should make the insertion of hip joint prostheses more precise and easier - with clear advantages for the patient: faster healing, shorter recovery time.

Unfortunately, in many cases it turns out very differently. Several times, Robodoc mills off too much of the natural bone, sometimes it even does it in the completely wrong place. In other cases, the surrounding muscles are stretched so much that patients struggle with problems for months. In the meantime, Robodoc has disappeared in the storerooms of the clinics.

The technical support of the surgeons makes sense and in the future it is impossible to imagine operating theaters without them, all experts agree on this. But they are also sure that robots will never get beyond the role of assistants. They will make the work of doctors better and more accurate, but the surgeon will remain irreplaceable in the operating room in the future.