Robots Are Invading the Operating Room
Robots have been used in many industries for years to assist humans with many tasks requiring repeated, precise actions. Industrial welding often utilizes robotic assistance so that welds in critical areas such as infrastructure are high quality and consistent. It would stand to reason, then, that joint replacement would also benefit from this same technology, as replacing joints is still essentially complex carpentry at its core. And what "infrastructure" is more important than your own body?!
I understand the pushback over the use of robots in surgery - no surgeon wants to feel replaceable. And no one wants to admit that a robot could do surgery better than a human. However, this is only robotic assistance to increase precision and also incorporate the use of advanced imaging and computer navigation. In the end, these are merely only tools to help an experienced surgeon perform a joint replacement. Without in depth knowledge of the procedure and years of practice, this would not be a valuable tool. Like many others, I was somewhat skeptical at first too. But the more I have used the Mako robot, the more it has grown on me. A welding robot may be able to make a perfect weld, but it doesn't know where to weld, or exactly how to do it without human input. In the same way, the Mako robot only knows what a surgeon tells it.
I guess the long and the short of it is that this is another tool that allows me to help ensure excellent patient outcomes. I know how to do hip and knee replacements and I feel comfortable doing them with standard instrumentation. However, the ability to know that the cup (socket) is in the optimal position for a hip replacement while still in the OR (which is a significant factor determining whether the hip could ever accidentally dislocate) is a great advance. Helping to ensure leg lengths are spot on after hip replacement is another advantage. And finally, balancing the knee perfectly in flexion and extension and helping to eliminate mid-flexion instability (a common complaint among active patients with knee replacements) all make incorporating another tool into my arsenal well worth it.
Robots are here to stay. Its time to embrace the technology as another tool to advance the field of orthopaedics. We don't use hand drills any more, and as technology advances we should carefully evaluate it and utilize it to help our patients.