Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri has used a snake-like robot to perform more than a half dozen throat surgeries over the past month. Simply put, the robot is more accurate than Duvvuri could hope to be.
Duvvuri, director of head and neck surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), said the Flex Robotic System surgical robot he's been using has sub-millimeter accuracy; it can "snake" its way to any place in the body and it causes less damage to soft tissue.
As far back as 2008, studies showed that patients undergoing minimally invasive heart-bypass surgery using a robot had a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, fewer complications and a better chance that the bypassed vessels would remain open.
Last year, a Florida hospital proved robots could enable surgeons to remotely operate on patients. The Florida Hospital Nicholson Center in Celebration successfully tested lagtime created by the Internet for a simulated robotic surgery in Ft. Worth, Texas, more than 1,200 miles away from the surgeon at the virtual controls. Being able to perform remote surgeries would allow specialists to attend to any patient, anywhere in the world.
The Nicholson Center's simulator mimics procedures performed by a da Vinci robotic surgical system, the most common robotic equipment in use today; it's involved in hundreds of thousands of surgeries every year worldwide.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the da Vinci Surgical System from Intuitive Surgical in Sunnyvale, Calif. in 2000. Since that time, the da Vinci has been adopted by hospitals in the United States and Europe to treat a range of conditions. The system's console gives the surgeon a high-definition, magnified 3-D view of the surgical site.
Robots can also be used to deliver high doses of radiation with sub-millimeter accuracy anywhere in the body. The Accuray CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System is one such system developed in 1990 by a professor of neurosurgery and radiation oncology at Stanford University. Approved by the FDA in 2001, the CyberKnife system can treat tumors anywhere in the body and has been used on 40,000 patients worldwide, according to the company.
While still needing skilled medical personnel to oversee them, surgical robots are increasingly showing up tableside in operating rooms, and they may some day allow people with only basic medical knowledge to perform operations outside of a hospital setting.
By 2020, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double to $6.4 billion, according to a recent report by Allied Market Research. That would represent a 10.2% annual growth rate between 2014 and 2020.
In 2014, the gynecological application segment accounted for 28% of the surgical robotic systems market share; it is expected to maintain its dominance throughout the next four years.
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