Robots have featured quite frequently in the news recently, with most people seeing the security robot ‘drown’ in the office complex in America. While this made us smile and the media delighted at the opportunity to share some witty headlines about the robot’s demise, it was an illustration of just how far we have come with robotic technology. Security robots are an exciting new development, designed to help make modern day lives better and easier. Robots are being increasingly used in surgery. There is now good evidence that prostate and other forms of abdominal surgery are safer and more effective when robots are used. The world of orthopaedics is no stranger to this idea either.
According to the Bone and Joint Journal, “the use of robots in orthopaedic surgery is an emerging field that is gaining momentum”. Although it is relatively early days at the moment, medical professionals are recognising the benefits that robotic technology can bring. If all goes to plan, it will be able to help with accuracy of operations and with this increased accuracy, faster recovery, better function and the hope that the new joint will function well for longer.
Robotic equipment is a considerable investment, but the benefits should be significant to the patient. What robotic orthopaedics is missing at the moment is robust data. This is always the case when something new is introduced. Already we have some data indicating that hip replacement components can be implanted more accurately. As more units invest in robotic technology, more data will emerge confirming improved accuracy of component placement and link this to faster recovery and improved functional outcome.
What types of operation are best suited to robotic assistance?
Partial knee and hip replacements are amongst the first commonly performed orthopaedic operations to take advantage of the potential benefits of robotic and computer-assisted technology. Malalignment of hip and knee components can cause instability, increased wear, loosening and early failure, requiring revision surgery. Modern robotic technology uses computer mapping on CT scans of the joint to plan the optimal position into which the components should be implanted. The robot acts as an extension of the surgeon’s eyes and hands and guides the surgeon to ensure to components go in the pre-planned position, potentially using smaller incisions, with less soft tissue trauma.
One of the reasons that hip and knee replacements are at the forefront of robotic technology is because demand for these operations is rising. The ‘baby boomers’ are now reaching an age where their joints are typically starting to wear out, stopping them carrying on with the activities they enjoy. At the moment joint replacement is the only way to get these patients back to their sports and activities to help improve their quality of life. The use of robots to improve the positioning of the new joint will hopefully make these operations even more reliable and successful.
Investing in the future
Many orthopaedic surgeons like Mr Bridle are interested in the potential that robotics can bring to the profession, it feels like an exciting development within the industry and one that can help make orthopaedic operations even more of a sure thing for patients.