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Skills are more important than equipment – surgical robots do not improve the long-term outcomes

Posted July 13, 2018

Robots are coming into our everyday lives more and more. Surgical robots allow for a greater precision and ergonomics for doctors, but do outcomes differ depending on whether a robot or a human was operating a person? Scientists at the University of Queensland decided to find out and compared the long-term functional outcomes of the prostate cancer surgery.

Skills and knowledge of the surgeon are the most important factors for the long-term outcome. Image credit: Staff Sgt. Miguel Lara via Wikimedia

Surgical robots are not meant to just improve outcomes of the surgery – they have many more advantages. However, it is not clear if it really matters for the patient in the long-term. It is also somewhat of a philosophical question, because robots and humans are about to become competitors in a workplace. This time scientists found no difference in the outcome of prostate cancer surgery that could be attributed to the use of robot or hands of the surgeon. This study took 24 months to complete, which doesn’t sound long enough to assess long term effects, but is actually a widely accepted timeframe for recovery of urinary and sexual function after prostate cancer surgery.

The good thing is that results were good for both groups in the study – those operated with a robot and those operated by surgeon’s hands. Outcomes were excellent and scientists concluded that patients shouldn’t have a preference over the equipment, because it will not have an effect on long term recovery. Instead, patients should go to the surgeon who is known for his skills – it is much more important that robots. However, those who do not want a robot-assisted surgery do not have many options as this method has been adopted by many health professionals and is now the most widely utilised surgical approach for prostatectomy.

Most importantly, men should know that outcomes of a timely prostatectomy are usually excellent. They should not hesitate going to a doctor regardless of what kind of equipment the hospital is using. Chris McMillan, CEO of Cancer Council Queensland, said: “Around 18,300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Australia, and about 3,200 die from the disease. If men have questions about their individual risk of prostate cancer, we recommend they speak with their GP to discuss risk factors and pros and cons of prostate cancer testing”.

Robots are here to stay, but they cannot replace human knowledge and skill. Surgical robots are not really meant to change the long term outcome. But by being more precise they can reduce short term pain and make the job of the surgeon a little easier. They also have potential to decrease recovery times after complex surgical procedures.


Source: University of Queensland

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