Photo Credit: MIT Technology Review
By Angela Choi
Of the 310 million patients from all over the world that undergo surgery each year, recent research has shown that 50 million of these patients suffer surgical complications, which widely range in severity. But with the use of AI-assisted robotic surgery on the rise, we can’t help but wonder: how much of an impact could surgical robots have on this data?
Given that robots have the superhuman ability to repeat precise motions without fatigue, they can help reduce the effects of accidental movements by surgeons. Thus, robotic procedures are most commonly used with minimally invasive surgeries, which are performed through tiny incisions. This allows surgeons to perform extremely delicate and physically demanding procedures with much more accuracy and control than they could with any other traditional techniques. Not only does this reduce the chance of complications for patients, but it also provides the benefits of quicker recovery, smaller scars, and less blood loss and pain.
Furthermore, through new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robots can also use data from previous operations to create improved surgical techniques and identify ways to further reduce risk. AI and machine vision can help analyze scans to detect cancerous cases, and surgical robots can also provide real-time guidance, warnings, and advice to surgeons through thousands of prior cases stored in the cloud for access. For example, a visual overlay inside the surgical space could point out the location of critical blood vessels behind the current operating plane. In this case, the AI would suggest that the surgeon avoid these specific areas by showing how successful surgeons in the past have traversed the anatomy and by being aware of the specific tools needed to take action.
One specific application that has already proven to be effective is with delicate eye surgeries that treat age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of severe vision loss for people over the age of 60. Robotic systems can successfully remove membranes from a patients’ eyes or blood underneath the retina, and in some cases are even more effective than manual procedures.
Even with the significant growth of support for AI-assisted robotic surgeries as a safe alternative, they also involve some risk, some of which are similar to those of conventional surgery methods. Although mechanical malfunction or failure occurs at an extremely low rate in less than 1% of cases, it can still potentially happen and cause infection or other complications. Another possible issue is that these complex methods for action recognition require samples like videos that are manually labeled, which is both time-consuming and leaves potential for human error.
As with all other applications of artificial intelligence, it is important to recognize the possible dangers that come with robotic surgeries, but the promise of AI to improve outcomes in healthcare and provide unprecedented solutions also should not be overlooked. Support for these new advances from governments, tech companies, and healthcare providers will only continue to expand as more and more robotic procedures are successfully tested by surgeons. The future of AI-assisted surgical robots offers much more than what we currently envision of a surgeon’s hands, but only time will tell what innovative changes will result as these new technologies are embraced.
Robotics Business Review
Bernard Marr & Co.