Now is the Time to Push for a Robot-Assisted Surgery Revolution

4/4/13

As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Bloomberg News, there is a controversy brewing over robotic surgery and whether it is superior to alternative surgical approaches. Robotic training practices have also been questioned and it has been debated whether surgeons are receiving enough supervised cases before flying solo.

What is surprising is that few people are picking up on a larger issue that most supervised training still takes place on patients. This is not unique to robotics, but is the standard for surgery overall. However, with the technological advances that come with robotics we certainly might expect training alternatives that would minimize our reliance on animals and patients for surgical education. After all, military and commercial pilots undergo hundreds of simulation training hours before they fly actual planes. Shouldn’t our robot-assisted surgeons take advantage of similar technologies?

In full disclosure, I founded Mimic Technologies, a surgery simulation company, to address this very problem back in 2001. So it should be noted that I have a vested interest in the adoption of surgery simulation. I have been building medical simulators since 1990, when I began my journey towards a PhD, and I have been focused on robotic surgery simulation since 2003. I freely profess that I am a very strong proponent of robotic surgery and its benefits when coupled with simulation. My hope is that my background allows me to offer a unique perspective.

See one, do one, teach one–that’s the classic model of surgical training practiced in medical schools, teaching hospitals, and clinics worldwide.

Problem is, not every MD has the finely honed motor skills and 3-D spatial reasoning needed for many delicate operations. And, while the human hand is sensitive and subtle beyond comprehension, the hand’s sheer size makes it little better than a blunt instrument when considered in the context of the precise surgical procedures that increasingly require microsurgical precision.

Few will argue against the benefits of minimally invasive surgery (MIS) over “open” surgery, where large incisions are used to access internal organs. With MIS, “key-hole” incisions are used … Next Page »

Jeff Berkley, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Seattle-based Mimic Technologies, which provides worldwide training and software for the da Vinci robot. Follow @

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