Are Robotics a Good Idea for Cardiac Surgeons?
(senior at Maryknoll High School in Honolulu, Hawaii)
According to the American Heart Association, Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. This issue could be caused by the growth of the fast food business, or the lack of health awareness around the country. Whatever the cause may be, something needs to be done about this problem. Through surgical technology and the development in cardiology (study of the heart) many advancements have been made that could help combat the problem of heart disease. But is too much money and thought being put into futile machines that show no or little net gain in the case of surgery?
Over the years, new technology has been created that has impacted cardiac surgery in a positive way. Equipment such as the heart-lunch machine, and the artificial heart have been essential to the success of heart surgery and the survival of many who have encountered heart problems. According to Henry Louie MD, these pieces of technology have allowed cardiac surgeons to stick to the same routine throughout the years, “Ironically, heart surgery has not really changed in approach since its inception from the late ‘70s. We still use needle and thread to construct bypass grafts, sew in or fix defective valves or close holes within the heart. Materials and imaging techniques to fix or see into the heart have dramatically improved however” (Louie MD). But there are new machines that many say will change the face of the cardiac practice.
In 2000, the FDA approved a revolutionary machine called the DaVinci Robot. This machine specializes in surgical processes, and uses its tiny mechanical arms to create a more accurate but less painful procedure. It also decreases the patient’s stay in the hospital by a couple of days. One would think that the DaVinci Robot is a very prestigious tool that would serve well in the field of cardiovascular surgery. Many people want to see the rise of robotic technology in their every day life because technology has made life easier for many others. Robotic technology can help create confidence in many of those undergoing the procedure. But what is the difference between a necessity and an option?
According to the educators and doctors at Brown University, there is none to little difference when comparing heart surgery with the conventional method and the robotic method. Robotic surgery, however, is slightly on the expensive side. Each machine needs an investment of about $1 million. “Cardiac surgery for the patient is about the same with or without robot assistance… However, overall the cost is slightly greater for robotic assisted surgery than for conventional surgery” (Brown University). Also, the size of these machines does not fit the right criteria needed for cardiology. When dealing with the heart, the surgeon needs space to properly conduct the operation. The fact that these machines could take up half a room denies the surgeon the legroom and breathing space that would be comfortable. “The sheer size of robots in this technology presents a problem for cardiac surgery, especially in the area of pediatrics. Surgeons look toward smaller instruments with tactile feedback as well as a reduced cost of equipment” (Brown University). Brown University also interviewed Dr. del Nido, who does cardiac surgery in children. When asked about the major drawbacks of robotic surgery, his response was that, “The biggest drawback is that you don’t have any sense of feel. You have no sensation. The robots have no sensors on it. So if you’re putting your hands into a box, and you know that there are things inside, you can feel around with your hands and get a pretty good sense of what’s going on and what’s in there. The robot gives you no tactile feedback. You’re basically going by visual to what you’re doing to the tissue and that’s the biggest drawback.”
Robotics and technology are becoming growing resources in America, and the thought of robotics in surgery appeals to every American. Robotics in surgery would fulfill many dreams of having a technology ruled society; however, there are things that robotics cannot rule over (just yet), and that is cardiac surgery.
When speaking with Dr. Mark Grattan, a thoracic surgeon at Straub Medical Center, his views of robotic surgery are clear. In a recent Q&A session, Dr. Mark Grattan shares his opinion:
Q: So how do you feel about the use of robotic surgery? Would you rather use that in the future?
A: Not now, I don’t think robotics has gotten to a point yet where it’s safe to use on a lot of patients. To do robotics means that you have to do certain other things in order to protect the heart because you have to stop the heart. (Mark Grattan M.D)
Q: So when medical magazines say robotics can make surgery safer, technically it’s not true?
A: No, it’s not true, that is not true. They can make nice small incisions, and when you talk about robotics what you’re talking about is you want to make a smaller incision. So we make a smaller incision, but we don’t use the robot, there’s a minimally invasive surgery that does not necessarily need the robot. (Mark Grattan M.D)
Also, by speaking to Henry Louie, another thoracic surgeon in Hawaii, the views of robotic surgery become much clearer.
Q: How do you feel about the use of robots in heart surgery?
A: Robotic innovations have revolutionized many surgical procedures, but for heart surgery it has not really made an impact. For some technical reasons, robotics may not be suited for cardiac surgery because of the need for the heart lung machine use during the procedure. The heart lung machine is used to maintain blood flow to the patient while the heart contractions are arrested so the surgeon is able to work on a still heart without blood flow. (Henry Louie M.D)
The use of robots is definitely an intriguing and interesting idea for surgery. Robotics may be used in many different aspects of the medical community, but in the views of different scientists and surgeons, robotics does not currently fit the criteria of cardiac surgery. So in conclusion, is robotics a good idea for cardiac surgery? In the future there may be some exceptions to include robotic arms in the operating room, but currently, the size, cost, and complexity of robotics is too overwhelming for those in the operating room.
Grattan, M.D, Mark. "Interview with Dr. Mark Grattan." Personal interview. 9 Nov. 2009.
Louie, M.D, Henry. “Interview with Henry Louie MD.” Personal interview. 18 January. 2010.
"Robot-Assisted Surgery: Da Vinci." Division of Biology and Medicine. Web. 05 Mar. 2010.
"Robot-Assisted Surgery: Glossary." Division of Biology and Medicine. Web. 05 Mar. 2010.
"Robot-Assisted Surgery: Interview." Division of Biology and Medicine. Web. 05 Mar. 2010.