Can a Robot Save Us from Surgical Errors?

All surgeries carry some degree of risk, which is why surgeons train for years to master the delicate art. Cutting into the human body damages tissues, and one misstep can cause irreparable damage. Human surgery is one arena where machines have been unable to outperform humans, simply because of the intricacy and delicacy required.

Until now, robots have played the role of assistant in the operating room. The widely used da Vinci system uses human input to control precision robotics. The system was revolutionary when it was introduced; smaller and more precise incisions reduced healing time and infection risk. But to err is human, and surgeons are still very human.

Small errors, huge effects

A recent study in the British Medical Journal has confirmed that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, ranking just behind heart disease and cancer. Worse, a recent analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that just seven emergency surgical procedures accounted for around 80% of deaths and other factors related to emergency surgeries. All seven of the procedures involved abdominal surgery. In short, surgical errors contribute to a large part of healthcare associated deaths, and abdominal surgical errors have a very high fatality rate.

A new robot is in the works that would help to reduce medical and surgical errors, and the team behind the tech has just announced a major breakthrough. The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, or STAR, has successfully performed soft tissue surgery with minimal human interference. The system uses advanced imaging technology, force feedback sensors, and a highly precise mechanical arm to suture soft tissues.

STAR recently performed a procedure called anastomosis on a live pig. During the procedure, two severed pieces of intestine were stitched together. The results of STAR’s procedure were compared to three other methods, all of which required a human hand to guide the suturing.

Docs oversee robot’s first stitches

The Verge reported, “Overall, the STAR robot produced stitches that were more evenly spaced than any of the other three methods. This is a good signifier of a suture’s strength, said Axel Krieger, an assistant to the study, as inconsistent spacing leads to pressure points. These, in turn, lead to leaks.” In addition to even spacing, the robot was able to react to changing circumstances and constantly moving flesh. Despite the success of the experiment, STAR isn’t quite ready for the real world; more tests are needed in a great deal of different circumstances.

STAR represents great hope for our future, and the efforts behind the technology have the best of intentions. However, the present we live in is the one where medical errors are a leading cause of death and eight in ten abdominal surgeries result in death. Medical errors kill people and change families forever. When they do, we are here to help.

The experienced Ohio and Kentucky medical malpractice lawyers at Crandall & Pera Law can evaluate your case and help your family recover from injury or loss. Call 877.651.7764 for our Kentucky team, 877.686.8870 for out Ohio team, or contact us today for a free consultation.

 

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