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The future of Surgery – Robotic and AI Enabled?

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The future of surgery is robotic and AI enabled, but you may ask “Is it safe, Doctor (Robot)?”

The past few decades have seen a countless innovation in surgical procedures, like the introduction of compact, precise instruments, making the machines UI sensitive and UX centric, making surgeries less invasive, cost-effective, 3D printed and more.

Today, as we speak, technology is revolutionizing medicine in many ways and surgeries are no exception. The first robotic surgery is known to be performed as early as 1999 to reconnect a woman’s fallopian tubes successfully. Seven years later, the first unmanned robotic surgery was performed in Italy in 2006. There has been no looking back since then.

Surgical robotics as a technology holds significant promise. The estimated global market size for surgical robotics was 5.1 billion USD in 2017 and is expected to swell significantly, to a whopping 12.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2025.

With Robot-assisted surgery, a skilled surgeon is in the driver’s seat, i.e. controlling the act. Operating through just a few small incisions with tiny-wristed robotic instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand, is much like a superpower in the hands of a surgeon.  The surgeon controls the robot using a console, looking into a high definition image projected from a tiny camera inside the patient’s body. The surgeon leverages controllers that can mimic his or her hand movements with the tiny robotic instruments, in an easy and precise manner. Like any other surgery, a team of paramedical staff assists the surgeon through the entire surgery.

Robotic surgeries have been long dominated by industry pioneer Intuitive Surgical, with over a 3,600 of its da Vinci machines being used across the globe. The leader, Intuitive, rules the space with $3.3 billion in annual sales. Stocks of Intuitive have swollen many folds in the past five years.

Recently, deep-pocketed rivals and pioneers in the medical devices are joining the bandwagon. The medical equipment major, Medtronic has joined hands with Major and is working on launching its own robotic surgery system to launch in 2020. A startup (Verb surgical) backed by Johnson & Johnson and Alphabet, Google’s parent company (it’s unit the Verily life sciences) is prototyping many products to further the space.

Surgical robots offer immense benefits by extending a surgeon’s capabilities by performing dexterous operations, once rendered manually difficult. Old school surgical techniques caused multiple tears on a patient’s body, instigating pain and risking larger damage to the body. Artificial intelligence and big data analytics are powering the next generation of robotic surgeries. Robotic surgeries offer unparalleled precision and miniaturization. Robotic articulation goes beyond human comprehension and power of data can help the ailing world significantly.

Like any other surgery, the ones performed by Robots are not completely free from risks. Primary risks for robotic surgery are the development of bleeding or potential infection. Another major obstacle to mainstream adoption of surgical robots is the hefty price tag attached to the systems. Systems ranging some millions of dollars each is not for the faint-hearted. While companies are looking at advancing the technology to offer a legitimate price, pricing needs to be worked out well for mainstream adoption.

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