Technology Insight: surgical robots—expensive toys or the future of urologic surgery?

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There is an increasing demand for minimally invasive surgery, despite any controversy over whether patients benefit from minimally invasive procedures rather than undergoing open surgery. In the field of urology, the performance of more complicated procedures is still a challenge even for experienced laparoscopic surgeons. Recently, robots have been introduced to enhance operative performance, increase applicability and precision of laparoscopy, and improve the learning curve for complicated minimally invasive procedures. With the introduction of master–slave systems where the surgeon is seated remotely from the robot and uses controls to maneuver the mechanical arms placed inside the patient, a new development in robot-assisted surgery has commenced. Several authors have suggested that surgical robots similar to the da Vinci Surgical System® (Intuitive Surgical, Sunnyvale, CA), which have three-dimensional (3D) vision and wristed instruments thus giving a greater degree of freedom than rigid laparoscopic instruments, will facilitate the outcome of these more challenging laparoscopic procedures. Whether these features will translate into better functional and oncological results remains to be evaluated. Data published so far clearly suggest that the patient will benefit from less postoperative pain, decreased bleeding and a shorter hospital stay compared with open surgery, and that the surgeon benefits from a faster learning curve than for conventional laparoscopy. For the benefit of our patients and for the development of urology it is vital that we understand both the limitations of telerobotics and when it is appropriate to incorporate these new techniques in day-to-day urologic surgery.

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Figure 1: Operating room setup for robot-assisted surgery.
Figure 2: Operation times for three surgeons performing robot-assisted prostatectomy at the Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


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Correspondence to N Peter Wiklund.

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Wiklund, N. Technology Insight: surgical robots—expensive toys or the future of urologic surgery?. Nat Rev Urol 1, 97–102 (2004) doi:10.1038/ncpuro0055

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