The utilisation of robotic surgery across all medical specialties is on the increase, with surgeons believing they are able to offer greater benefits to patients by utilising robotic technology. Although this sounds really encouraging, with patients benefiting from a wide variety of factors, there is currently limited data in support of these practices.
Researchers have been studying data from a huge amount of records held by the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative, a partnership between the hospitals and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. The focus of this partnership is collecting and analysing data that focuses on quality improvement for surgical care. Researchers have been able to study “clinical registry data for 169,404 patients from 1 January 2012 to 30 June 2018, who underwent robotic, open or laparoscopic procedures at 73 hospitals across Michigan.
Despite the benefits being hard to prove with the current big data sources, very many surgeons are advocates of this technology. The perceived benefits to orthopaedic surgeons include greater accuracy of joint implantation, lower risks of there being complications with surgery (in particular with joint dislocation and the overall leg length for hip replacement), better functional outcomes and faster rehabilitation – especially for patients who have had knee replacement surgery.
Who is really in charge?
One of the perceived concerns with robotic advances in surgical technology is the level of autonomy that the machine has. Some are worried that the decision making is moving away from the surgeons into programmable robots, and there is some degree of concern with this. Orthopaedic surgeon Michael Suk, MD, chief physician officer at US medical company Geisinger, reassures that this really shouldn’t present a cause for concern, “The thing to keep in mind is that the robots involved in the surgery are not completely autonomous. They’re controlled by the doctor, which allows doctors to combine their knowledge and judgment with the precision and control of a robot. The robot isn’t doing the surgery—the doctor is, but with the help of the robot.”
Orthopaedic surgeons are utilising a robotic surgical arm known as Mako. It is designed to help increase precision and accuracy, enabling surgeons to carry out their work faster and to a more precise degree. The really clever thing about MAKO is just how precise it is able to carry out the tasks it is programmed to do. And it is able to benefit surgeons who carry out both knee replacement surgery and hip replacement surgery. “Mako is extremely precise—it allows doctors to do partial knee replacements two to three times more accurately than conventional partial knee replacements. Mako hip replacements are shown to be four times more accurate and reproducible than conventional hip replacements.”
Patient safety at the heart of everything
Medical regulators are keen to stress that, as with every advancement in medical practice, this will be vigorously analysed and tested to ensure that it is working in the best interests of the patient. As always, patient safety is at the forefront of any new initiative. Helpfully, with many surgeons exploring this new technique and working with Mako technology, the available data is growing and will enable researchers to continue to assess the benefits of robotic joint surgery and any potential weaknesses it presents.
To discover more of the benefits of robotic joint surgery, call 020 8947 9524 to arrange a consultation with Mr Simon Bridle at his London joint replacement clinic.