HomeSurgery ArticlesWill Surgeons Be Replaced By Robots?

Will Surgeons Be Replaced By Robots?

Humanity has now reached the height of civilization. With artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and scientific genius, the world now sees self-driving cars, drones, and virtual assistants.

These trends send shock waves to the jobs market. As robots and artificial intelligence replace human beings, many are harrowed by impending unemployment in the decades to come.

These technologies also pose risks across many careers. In Australia, for example, over a million jobs related to finance, accountancy, and administrative roles may be replaced by artificial intelligence by 2030.

Will robots replace surgeons one day? What is the future of the surgical industry, and should surgeons be worried about their careers?

This article will reveal the future of surgery as robotics continue to advance.

The state of robotics in surgery today

Robots have been assisting surgeons in the operating room for two decades already. They do not perform surgery by themselves; instead, surgeons and doctors control these robots.

Such specialized machines give surgeons an additional arm or eye for precise and delicate procedures.

For example, the Da Vinci Surgical System manufactured by Intuitive provides precise incision accessories, graspers, needles, and monitoring instruments. It also features a surgical camera for magnification and robotic assistance.

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot is also one of the leading surgical machines today. This robot has advanced vision systems, force sensors, and suture algorithms.

It precisely sews stitches, covering one of the most repetitive routine tasks that surgeons perform.  But the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot beats the surgeons whom they assist in making even and consistent stitches.

In 2016, the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington examined this robot in treating soft tissues compared to humans. The result: this robot almost independently sutured pig intestines much better than human surgeons, but the procedure was forty minutes longer.

The power of surgical robots

Despite their training and skills, surgeons may also get tired, disappointed, distracted, and forgetful.

Robots do not have the physical weaknesses and infirmities of humans. However, robots are just machines: they were designed and manufactured for the sole purpose of assisting during surgeries.

The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine declares that surgical robots are robust in the operating room:

  • Robots improve surgeons’ vision by magnifying the area during surgery.
  • Robots augment surgeons’ dexterity through the tools and equipment they provide. They lessen the risk of damaging healthy tissues and organs.
  • Robots reduce the size of incisions through minimally invasive procedures.
  • Since these robots are highly precise and accurate, surgeons can treat tight spaces reachable only through open surgeries.

Patients also benefit from the surgical robots:

  • Robots reduce the required size of incisions so patients will recover faster. The risk of infection is also significantly reduced.
  • Patients of surgeries assisted by robots will have minimal scarring, reduced pain, and shorter hospital stay.
  • In turn, these machines lessen the need for pain relievers.

The drawback of utilizing surgical robots

However, surgical robots still spark controversy in the medical industry— some studies show that surgical robots are flawed.

The Journal of the American Medical Association examined kidney procedures with robotic-assisted surgery compared to laparoscopic surgery without them.

The result: robots may be helpful for surgeries and patient care, but their benefits, safety, and cost-effectiveness are unestablished. In other words, surgeries with or without robots are almost the same. 

Similarly, the robot designed for anesthesiology raised many issues as well. Johnson & Johnson manufactured the Sedasys, a machine that administers anesthesia for routine surgery patients while monitoring their vital signs.

The Sedasys machine performed remarkably, even to the point of making anesthesiologists worry. Using it is even cheaper: an anesthesiologist costs $2000 for each procedure, while the Sedasys only costs $150 to $200.

But this anesthetic machine ultimately failed because of its stagnant sales, limited operational capability, and the outcry in the medical industry.  

So, can automated robots replace surgeons?

Investors and analysts make audacious claims about the future of artificial intelligence and the medical industry. Kai-Fu Lee, a famous Chinese technologist, said robots might replace half of all jobs in ten years.

One of the founders of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla, estimates that robots and machines will eventually replace 80% of doctors. He also claims that business people, not medical personnel, will drive the health care industry in the future.

Indeed, robots and artificial intelligence continue to transform the health care industry at present. Gradually, robots are likely to replace administration, disinfection, and telehealth services.

Eventually, these technologies may also take charge in hospital roles related to patient diagnosis, image examination, workflow management, drug research, and hospital resource.

But surgeons have nothing to fear: almost all projections and analyses say that robots can never replace human surgeons.

According to a 2013 report published in the Oxford Martin School, there is only a 0.4% chance that robots will drive physicians and surgeons out of jobs. In other words, it is impossible.

Even manufacturers do not intend to substitute surgeons with their technology. Dr Peter Kim, the project leader on Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, declared that it is unlikely that robots will replace surgeons.

Why are surgeons irreplaceable and not at risk from automation? Experts point at the following reasons:

Robots can never match human empathy. Machines and algorithms cannot make patients feel human compassion, trust, and understanding.

Practising medicine is not just about providing treatments and explaining them; it is also about listening, forming relationships, and showing sincerity.

Medicine is non-linear. When they treat diseases and accidents, surgeons deal with unique circumstances that algorithms may fail to detect.

Data and quantitative measurements are vital for both human surgeons and robots. However, analyzing patients’ health also requires the intuition, creativity, and problem-solving skills that only humans possess.

It is not worth it to replace surgeons with robots. The human brain can absorb knowledge and quickly adapt as medicine advances. Robots cannot interpret the nuances of human personality, let alone the diseases and disorders that patients have.

Instead of fully automating surgery, manufacturers find it more profitable to create tools and machines that will support surgeons.

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