However science fiction-esque it may have sounded decades ago, using robots to perform delicate surgeries is decidedly science fact today. Looking toward future decades, researchers are now trying to find ways to take robotic surgery to the battlefield.
“We’re not talking about something that’s going to be immediately available, but if we don’t do this research now, we will not have the option of having surgical intervention remotely or robotically (on the battlefield). That’s the underpinning motivation for our getting into it,” said Dr. Gerry Moses of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center.
A surgeon using a robotic surgery system in a hospital typically sits across the room from a patient. Looking through a three-dimensional monitor, the surgeon uses a joystick to control the robot, which is armed with surgical tools and a camera.
A subset of laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgeries are great for minimally invasive procedures, said Col. Noah Schenkman, chief of urology service at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In the past three years, he has performed almost 50 operations using a robotic surgery system to repair blockages between the kidney and the ureter, or to remove the prostate.
“Lap instruments are very current, but sometimes they’re not very ergonomic. They don’t allow you to make the complex, difficult maneuvers that you can make with just your hands,” he said. “The robot allows you to regain some of those complex movements because it has an articulating instrument that allows you to make those movements, (like) sewing, during reconstructive operations.”
Schenkman said robotic surgery offers a surgeon several benefits. Because it’s a machine, it eliminates the normal tremor associated with human hands performing fine motor movements. The system’s 3-D view also gives the operator increased vision and magnification, both of which are important in complex, intricate surgeries. And because the surgery is done from a sitting position, it’s doesn’t wear out the surgeon.