Robotic surgery in the United States became available to the public more than 20 years ago, in 1992, when a 64-year-old man had his hip successfully replace with the help of a machine called Robodoc.
However, it wasn’t until 2000 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the da Vinci robotic system for a large group of minimally invasive procedures. This is when robotic surgery really started gaining popularity.
Over the last 10 years, nearly 2,000 surgical robots have been sold in the United States and the number of robotic procedures for everything from head and neck surgery to hysterectomies has soared by 30 percent each year. It seems that this soaring in popularity has been due to aggressive marketing tactics playing up the robot’s “wow” factor rather than a solid track record of safety and effectiveness.
Billboards and television commercials have cracked up these robotic systems to be more high-tech and cutting edge than they really are, safety experts say. However, what we have learned from several sources including the FDA is that these robots may not be living up to their promise. Researchers at Johns Hopkins say that while some people may benefit from robotic surgery, it may actually end up hurting others.
Making the Right Decision
So how do you determine if robotic surgery is right for you? Here are a few tips:
• Do not believe everything you see or hear. Ignore the hype. According to a 2011 Johns Hopkins study, hospital websites often cite studies comparing robotic surgery with open surgery instead of with minimally invasive procedures. Many claims with regard to safety and effectiveness can also be misleading.
• Carefully consider your options. Think twice about going in for robotic surgery for routine procedures such as hernia surgery, appendix removal or gallbladder removal. However, you may want to consider it for complex surgeries such as cancer surgery, head and neck tumors and other procedures where there is no minimally invasive option.
• It is important to ask questions before you go in for surgery. Some patients are not even informed that a robot will be used. If you are scheduled for surgery, ask questions about what procedures will be used.
• Make sure that you select the right doctor if you are going in for robotic surgery. Find out about his or her experience, number of procedures performed using a robot and his or her success rate.
• Talk to others you know who may have had the surgery or visit support groups.
It is important that all patients have the facts they need to make informed choices about their health. It is important for consumers to weigh all the positives and negatives of robotic surgery. There’s been recent talk of medical malpractice cases looming over the robotic surgery tool and it’s still early to determine if there will be legal cases surrounding robotic surgery and it’s level of safety.