Robotic laparoscopic instruments, however, are able to compensate for unintended movement, holding instruments utterly still as a surgeon performs a task. Robotic laparoscopic instruments are also able to act as third and fourth arms, holding tissue or organs out of the way of surgeons.
"Robots are also much more reliable. Their arms don't get tired after 30 minutes," Smith said.
Once robotics took over the at the operating table, allowing the surgeon to control instruments from feet or yards away, it also enabled new training facilities that allowed students to stand around a surgeon as he performed a procedure from behind glass in an adjacent room.
Dr. Randy Fagin, chief administrative officer for the Texas Institute for Robotic Surgery, oversees 150 hospitals equipped for robotic surgery. In all, there are more than 2,000 surgical robots in operating rooms across the U.S., Fagin said.
In fact, 80% of prostate cancer surgeries today are performed using surgical robots, as are 41% of hysterectomies, Fagin said.
"So it's become very commonplace," he said.
Because surgical robots are even more dexterous and precise than physicians are able to be, many patients who previously weren't candidates for minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery now are, Fagin said.
"I can't move my hand fractions of a millimeters, but I can move them a couple of millimeters. And the robot can scale that down," Fagin said. "And, that way I have the potential to create a more accurate cut."
Fagin made an analogy to driving a car, where if the operator wanted the vehicle to make a 90-degree turn, he or she would turn the steering wheel 270 degrees; the car's steering system scales the steering wheel movement down to make the turn.
An additional benefit of using robotic surgical instruments is that data from computers controlling the robotics can be collected and analytics applied to discover best practices based on outcomes.
Fagin manages information and performance for robotic surgery programs at more than 80 hospitals in the U.S. using big data analytics from Tableau Software to help manage nearly $1B in resources and revenue.
In 2014, the big data analytics software culled data from 30,000 robotic procedures and 150 million data points, Fagin said.
"It would take an individual hospital 100 years to acquire the same amount of information we collect every year from all our hospitals," he said. "And because of that, we can learn to be better healthcare providers by collecting data rather than anecdotal experiences."
For example, Fagin said, hospitals and even patients often choose surgeons based on their past experience. The more experienced that physician is, the more likely we are to choose them. However, Fagin pointed out, more important than the number of times a surgeon has performed a procedure is the information he or she has learned from those experiences.
"Imagine, whether you're a surgeon, a nurse or a scrub technician, if you were able to empower that person with the knowledge of many," Fagin said. "We can create a collective intelligence...from hundreds of individuals."
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