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Surgical robotics is here to stay. But who’s to blame when things go wrong?

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Time was when the requisite qualities for a surgeon were distinctly biological – “eye of a hawk, heart of a lion and hands of a lady”. But in modern-day hospitals, machines are quietly supplanting handicraft in the operating theatre.

These “master-slave” type of devices use tele-manipulation of articulating arms operated by a surgeon sitting at a console with video monitor and joystick/pedal controls. Worldwide, the commercial space is monopolised by the first FDA-approved system – aptly named after the original Renaissance man, da Vinci. The technique is essentially that of minimal-access (‘laparoscopic’) surgery, and robotic-assisted surgical devices have been applied across specialities.

Six thousand surgical robots globally performed a million operations last year. The market was worth US$6 billion. A basic system costs US$2 million.

Robotic surgeries are 6-28 per cent more expensive than the laparoscopic equivalent (averaging US$2,200 more), but proof of advantage over standard surgical techniques has been elusive: complication and success rates are comparable.

Device for brain surgery inside MRI scanner marks robotics first

Surgical robotics is poised to go “generic” as original patents expire and new developers and applications enter the field. Next-generation devices will feature enhanced voice........

© South China Morning Post