“Surgery” by Army Medicine is licensed under CC BY 2.0
In today’s world, people are surrounded by technology that makes harder tasks, faster and easier to do which was not the case many years ago. That may be a good thing, but it can lead to bad things later down the road. Computers or AI have flaws or bugs that can be a problem especially when it comes to the job of a surgeon. In my essay, I want to talk about the benefits of using AI or computers in surgery, but I also want to warn people about the risks of it.
Surgeons have a hard job and are entrusted with the life of their patients, so computers being introduced to the medical field helped them out a lot. The beginning of putting technology into surgery started in the 1980s and then evolved from there. “The earliest version of what would become surgical robotic technology was a standard industrial robot arm known as the PUMA 560 which stands for Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly/Programmable Universal Manipulation Arm. An engineer at Unimation first developed this technology” (SEPAC, Inc). This is an example of surgery-assisting technology known as robotic surgery. As there are around 5,000 devices operating around the world, the use of robots in surgery is increasing along with usage in the FDA. The first systems were used in the FDA were used in 2000. “The robotic surgery system that is more widely used is originated from the concept of telepresence, which led to research and development sponsored by the government” (Raney and Teixeira). Telepresence is the use of VR which stands for virtual reality to aid in the control of machines or devices remotely. This work has led to various kinds of computer or AI incorporated into surgery that can help with surgery and patient care.
The work that came from researchers eventually created these RAS devices which are a type of computer-assisted surgical system and are also known as robotic surgery. “RAS devices enable the surgeon to use computer and software technology to control and move surgical instruments through one or more tiny incisions in the patient’s body (minimally invasive) for a variety of surgical procedures” (Health, Center for Devices and Radiological.) There are several components to these RAS devices. These include a console which is the control center, a bedside cart that has mechanical arms with a camera and surgical tools, and a separate cart that has hardware and software components. “Surgeons use multiple surgical instruments and accessories with the RAS device, such as scalpels, forceps, graspers, dissectors, cautery, scissors, retractors, and suction irrigators” (Health, Center for Devices and Radiological). Even though these machines are advanced, the surgeon must still use his surgical instruments and the surgeon still must be careful while using these systems.
Many kinds of computer-assisted surgical systems have many uses to help in surgery. Some of the systems are for pre-operative planning, to assist in performing surgery and surgical navigation. The RAS devices can also help interns or people who are studying to become a surgeon by teaching them through simulations and teaching them important skills they would need to know when they become a real, professional surgeon later in their lives. These devices would simulate and teach different procedures like gallbladder removal, prostatectomy, and hysterectomy. This is important for people training to become a surgeon because people like to do hands-on learning rather than book learning. There are many benefits to computers or AI in surgery including assisting with education.
Another benefit that came from technology is called Telemedicine. This is especially useful right now because of the pandemic. People do not want to travel to a pharmacy, hospital, or even to the doctors because they fear that they may get the Covid-19 virus. Telemedicine is used by video chatting for checkups or appointments. Surgeons get to look out for their patience post-surgery because of this. This is better for older people because most older people do not like to travel in the first place so all they must do is use a phone to talk to their doctors.
A virtual and learning tool for surgeons that was used was called Proximie. This was founded by Nadine Hachach-Haram who is a reconstructive plastic surgeon. “The platform was first used during real-time surgery in an operation on a bomb blast victim in Gaza in 2016. In 2019, the UK Ministry of Defense awarded Proximie a multi-year contract to provide access to its AR system to front-line field hospitals, and Royal Navy ships located around the world” (Chace). This tool is very useful for the military and to train surgeons because surgeons get to see and do things during a surgery remotely.
Another device or program that you would not easily think of would be AI used in surgery today. “The artificial intelligence comes in with advanced augmented reality (AR) features and cutting-edge computer vision. These technologies enable the surgeon to summon up data and images relevant to the procedure, and to see what is going on with unnatural clarity.” (Chace) This would help keep accurate files and information on patients that a surgeon would see. It would help the surgeon choose appropriate procedures related to the patient’s case and would make it less time-consuming. Surgeons are also able to ask other surgeons for their opinion about the care of a patient by showing them the information they have collected.
Evolutionary inventions like robotic surgery had a lot of good benefits for using robot surgeons. This is not new, but people have made improvements to these devices. “Robot surgeons enables the precise and minimally invasive surgery known as laparoscopy, or keyhole surgery, to be carried out by a surgeon who is thousands of miles away from the patient.” (Chace) This makes the surgeon’s job easier when doing an operation, but it still is a large task at hand because you are dealing with a life of a person.
Researchers have recently figured out how to use technology to track a beating heart’s function over time. Ultrasound videos were used to find small changes in heartbeats. Our hearts are muscles that beat all of their different parts in a rhythm that helps to move blood around the body so different activities can be performed. “Understanding the variations in cardiac pump activity with each heartbeat might have relevance for explaining the intricacies of heart function in health and disease” (Sengupta and Adjeroh). This involves patience, and it is still imprecise even though the goal is to be precise in order to explain the problem with a heart. This will take a while to make it work correctly, but when it does it would benefit doctors and the patients who have heart problems they do not know about.
Technology that is used in surgery can benefit the patient, not just the surgeon by making a patient’s hospitalization stay shorter, less pain or discomfort, faster recovery time, smaller incisions which makes the scars smaller and reduced infection risk along with less blood loss and transfusions. People complain about staying in the hospital after their surgery and people want to recover faster so they can get back to their normal life so this would be a good benefit of computers or AI in surgery.
Another benefit to computers and AI in surgery is that the vision of the surgeon is greatly improved because with the help of a computer surgeons can see clearer when performing surgery. Also, robots can be more precise when cutting into someone during surgery. Surgeons are supposed to have steady hands, but sometimes they cannot make steady and precise cuts in places that are hard to do because the place they need to cut might be dangerous and harmful to the patient if it is cut wrong. Surgeons use robots to help them be more precise and make smaller cuts. “The robot’s “hands” have a high degree of dexterity, allowing surgeons the ability to operate in very tight spaces in the body that would otherwise only be accessible through open (long incision) surgery.” (UC Health) Robots have errors, but they are built to make small and precise cuts during surgery. Computers do not do all the work though; the surgeon must guide the devices during surgery in order to use them. You can have a robot do all the work because it can lead to difficulties and lead to harm the patient.
There may be a lot of benefits to computers or AI in surgery, it still comes at risk or disadvantage like everything in this world does especially computers because there may be errors in their programming. One risk or disadvantage may be that this technology may at some point take away a surgeon’s job. Technology in today’s world has been taking jobs from people because new programs or devices are invented that make a job easier so eventually, they replace the humans working the job with these devices or programs. Many surgeons are capable of many things, but some things they cannot do so at some point a computer or AI will be able to do that task the surgeon could not do and replace them. Surgeons can also get tired while technology can never rest. Surgeons can also be clumsy, and technology is not capable of that. Surgeons age constantly and they eventually retire because they cannot do their job anymore while machines or technology never age, they just improve or upgrade them. Sadly, these differences between technology and surgeons will eventually take away surgeons’ jobs to better the healthcare world.
Another disadvantage to computers and AI is that they cost a lot to make or fix. There is a lot of advantages to the technology involved in surgery, so people want more of that to help with more difficult procedures. The problem with that is that the technology and machinery cost a lot and people cannot afford it. People would be willing to pay for this amazing technology, but they do not have the money because of the way they are living. Most of society does not have a lot of money, to begin with.
Unlike humans, robots do not have the capability to have emotions or feelings which is a big problem because people feel more comfortable around people than computers and machinery. You want to have the thing operation on you to have emotion or the patient would just be scared to even get the surgery. You need to establish trust with the patient which a computer cannot do. Computers do not take calculated risks and use emotion to decide and ask the family what they would want as doctors do. Computers just choose the most logical and accurate decision and just do it. This could mean that the computer does not care that the patient lives or dies. This would not be a good thing because all life is precious to humans, especially to the family of the patient.
Robots also have errors in their programming and could easily kill someone without the hand of a surgeon guiding it. You need a doctor to guide machinery for the patient to be safe while using it. Also, to have these computers or AI in a room, you need a big enough space which is sometimes cannot happen. Surgeons in order to use this equipment must go through training so they do not harm a patient. There are many risks, but surgeons and other people are willing to take these risks in order to save someone’s life.
In conclusion, there are many benefits to using computers or AI in surgery, but people still must be warned about the risk and disadvantages of it. Maybe someday technology will take over and surgeons will lose their jobs, but technology and humans are not always perfect. The benefits of these computers, devices or machines will better the healthcare world because surgeons are not capable of anything, but that is okay. We still need humans to be surgeons in order to make the risks or disadvantages to a bare minimum and to have someone performing surgery have some sort of emotion in order to save multiple lives.
“Benefits of Robotic Surgery | UC Health.” Accessed March 27, 2021. https://www.uchealth.com/services/robotic-surgery/patient-information/benefits/.
Chace, Calum. “The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Surgery.” Forbes. Accessed March 27, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/calumchace/2020/10/08/the-impact-of-ai-on-surgery/.
“Challenges Associated with Robot-Assisted Surgery: Lead Feature.” AORN Journal: The Official Voice of Perioperative Nursing 103, no. 3 (March 2016): P7–9. http://dx.doi.org.wilkes.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/S0001-2092(16)00135-6.
Health, Center for Devices and Radiological. “Computer-Assisted Surgical Systems.” FDA. FDA, March 13, 2019. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/surgery-devices/computer-assisted-surgical-systems.
Ranev, Dimitar, and Julio Teixeira. “History of Computer-Assisted Surgery.” The Surgical Clinics of North America 100, no. 2 (April 1, 2020): 209.
Sengupta, Partho P., and Donald A. Adjeroh. “AI Tracks a Beating Heart’s Function over Time.” Nature 580, no. 7802 (April 2020): 192–94. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00819-6.
SEPAC, Inc. “Evolution of Medical Technology & Surgical Robotics,” July 10, 2020. https://sepac.com/blog/evolution-of-medical-technology-surgical-robotic/.