The study published last week in The Lancet contending that robotic-assisted surgery was no more effective or safer than a more conventional procedure — at least in prostate cancer cases, though there was an implication the findings were more widely applicable — wasn’t just a gentle but clear corrective to the prevailing narrative of technological advances rapidly and relentlessly eroding the daunting cliff wall of medical risk factors. It stood as a research outcome at odds with the current trends in healthcare, as facilities devote immeasurable time and hefty outlays of funds toward increasing the presence of robots in surgical suites.
To the degree that patients are picking up on editorials that use The Lancet study to cast skepticism more broadly on robotic surgeries, their impressions are surely toted to the next browser tab over, which could hold one of the ceaselessly generated news stories about modern miracle contraptions taking up permanent residence in a facility’s O.R. With technological wariness already abounding (try talking to a casual news consumer about self-driving cars), the prospect of a surgery conducted by a machine instead of a human — however inaccurate and incomplete that perception might be — can amp up already potent anxiety.
All signs point to robotic-assisted surgery as the future norm, across a range of procedures and specialized disciplines. As one example, the market for surgical robots in spinal surgery already sits at $26 million and is expected to increase approximately tenfold in the next six years. Intuitive Surgical has over 3,600 surgical robot devices in the field (far and away the dominant manufacturer, Intuitive basically owns this part of healthcare industry right now) and has financial markets feeling positively bullish about its prospects for future growth.
Doctors are starting to create feedback loops to help manufacturers understand how to make surgical robots even more effective tools. It’s equally important to keep patients informed about the concrete benefits of the technologies, assuaging fears in much the same way that any number of more long-standing facets of complex procedures are explained.
Surgeons rightly feel no particular obligation to share details of every scalpel, retractor, or other instrument that’s been selected for a procedure. At this stage, robotic devices are different. They stand far enough outside the context and expectations of the average person that a little added education might just go a long way toward helping patients have the desired levels of confidence in the medical work ahead of them. In short, the use of robots makes the human touch that much more important.