daVinci Surgical System, produced by
It is very cool. The company brought their demo system to the meeting and let us run through the demo. The surgeon sits at a console, looks into a binocular-like device to visualize the camera view. What is cool is that if the surgeon pulls their head back from the viewfinder, the robotic arms lock up – no chance of an accident as the surgeon readjusts. The hand grips are on the console, and, in an advance beyond laparoscopes, can manipulate the robotic arms in every direction – twisting, bending and so on. For the demo, we picked up a small rubber ring – maybe an inch in diameter – and placed it on a small, crayon shaped rod.
Obviously, cool technology is just cool technology. The real test is what can be done with it. Robotic surgery is best for smaller surgical areas where precision is required, such as in prostate surgery. A current limitation is that the surgeon and the console have to be close together – at a distance (such as in telemedicine) there can be a significant lag time between an event with the patient and when the surgeon would be aware of it. I suspect that, over time, this obstacle will be overcome.
Robotics holds promise in a number of areas of healthcare, including unskilled chores in practices and hospitals. We can’t envision what the possibilities are, but they are there. Delivering mail is one, as is transporting “stuff” from one place to another. One advance from Carnegie Mellon last could be a crucial step in a robot to “walk” and assist someone who has an unsteady walk. With the bulge of elderly folks developing, and a smaller pool of people to care for them (OK, us), some means of improved productivity will fill a huge need.
In healthcare, the focus is usually on clinical applications using technology. As the business managers of a practice, our job is to look for the business applications.