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Hospitals in the US are using robots to perform surgery on cancer patients, but those procedures aren’t demonstrating clear benefits in outcomes, according to The New York Times.
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As companies continue to invest in medical robotics systems — Medtronic acquired Mazor Robotics for $1.6 billion, while Johnson & Johnson spent $3.4 billion on Auris Health last month — they need to be clear about the intended uses for the products they develop.
They should also temper expectations for the impact of robotics in surgery until technology like 5G enables new and more-efficient practices.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that robotic procedures haven’t shown any demonstrable benefits for patients. The ostensible benefit of robot-based procedures is that the robot can perform fine movements more precisely than a physician.
However the FDA’s recent warning follows a pair of recent studies in medical journals showing that in some instances, such as the treatment of cervical cancer, outcomes were poorer when robots (rather than traditional methods) were used to perform surgery. It has not been determined precisely why the robotic surgeries produced poor results.
While advancing robotic systems’ technology could improve on their performance, more significant improvements will not come until 5G enables surgeons to use robo-surgery in conjunction with telehealth. The gains from contemporary robotic surgery systems are incremental and oriented toward making current procedures more efficient and effective, with the goal of creating better outcomes.
In today’s robotic surgeries, a surgeon located in the immediate vicinity of the patient uses a monitor to control the robot performing the operation. But with the advent of 5G networks that enable near-instantaneous communication due to low latency, surgeons will be able to perform remote procedures that are impossible today due to geographic limitations.
For example, a highly specialized surgeon would be able to operate on a patient on the other side of the country using a robotic system and a remote terminal. This type of use case was already demonstrated in a veterinary surgery in China.
As 5G networks start to light up worldwide, companies in the robotic surgery space need to work with telecommunications providers to ensure that they’re designing systems to take full advantage of technological innovations, spurring changes in surgery practices.
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