Digital Surgery: Can it shape the medical industry?

Digital Surgery: Can it shape the medical industry?


In today’s world, it is not uncommon to find smart technology. Specifically, the digital age of the phone, tablet, A.I, and V.R. is at its peak. Consequently, the branches of digitalization have spread beyond the realm of media arts and entertainment to various professional sectors. Medicine, which has long been a runner in the smart technology/digital arena, is successfully in the process of launching digital surgery (It’s not been launched yet). But what is this form of surgery, and is it beneficial to the medical industry?


The concept of digital surgery

The concept of digital surgery is the ability to give a robotic system the capabilities to interact and process data stored and transferred over a network.  With any digital system data is key to driving digital outcomes.  With advancements in machine to machine communications through IoT cloud based servers, never have machines been more integrated and connected to big data pools than today.  Even though a robotic system is technically a digital system given that it interacts with data through sensors, the idea of dispersed systems constantly sensing and acquiring data through a network of computers is where the digital robotics revolution is taking off today.  Since surgery has increasing been utilizing robotics to provide minimally invasive surgery, than digital robotic surgery is likely the future of surgery.  A system that is connected to a hospital network that utilizes communication protocols to communicate with doctors in real time, EHR records for learning through machine learning algorithms coded as a layer onto of an operating system that monitors surgery trends and patterns, and image data that utilizing Artificial Intelligence decision making algorithms for autonomous guidance of actuators, by determining the inputs to embedded systems for mechatronic outcomes and precise kinematic control.   


Why go digital?

One of the questions which arises with digital surgery is “why is it important?”. Digital robotic surgery offers a tool to surgeons with the potential to drastically shorten surgery life cycle, whilst providing optimal post care treatment plans. When exposing data to machine Learning and Artificial Intelligent algorithms the pre-operative, peri-operative and post operative planning process can become far simpler, with surgeons overseeing plans and conducting sensitivity analysis on pre-proposed plans, as oppose to spending countless hours making plans by going through countless data sets.  This frees up the surgeons time to focus more on the surgery than the technicalities. Other benefits include remote surgery at locations where access to a surgeon would be problematic; in theory such locations can have access to surgical services if the equipment is available. Moreover, as the surgery is conducted remotely, the door is opened for private practices to incorporate the robotics needed to perform such operations in-house, thus reducing the overcrowding and over-extending of ER services.


The hurdles of robotic digital surgery

Like many emerging technologies, there have been hurdles which has slowed the progression of robotic surgery. Firstly, the technology is new, which raises questions as to the validity and the reliability of the robotics. Secondly, FDA approval of the robotics is still in the works. Companies such as TransEnterix is seeking such an approval in their robotics. Thirdly, manufacturer’s must answer questions relating to emergency procedures and safety protocols (such as if the network or signal goes down). Furthermore the economics of surgical robotics needs improving as current purchasing models make the costs unbearable. However, all this being stated, Verb and other competitive companies have pressed forward with remarkable success.

Verb has announced that they plan to bring the surgical robot into the market in 2020, as well as the software and bundles for the software needed for the device.


How apt is the technology to spread?

While the concept of digital technology in medicine is fascinating, and where digital surgery does give inspire innovation and opens new possibilities for the medical field, it is highly improbable that local ERs will see such technology for a few more years. This is a result of the large size of the machine as well as the cost (estimated at around $2 million per unit). Add to this the software cost and maintenance/training required for ownership of the robotic devices, and you may find that many ERs opt to stick with the “traditional” methods of surgery.


Where will the market see robotics in surgery?

As the medical industry is a multi-billion dollar market, there will be areas which integrate the technology as a new standard, regardless of the cost. Such areas which are prone to see the robotics are optics, dental, laparoscopic and minor surgical procedures. This is not to say that the technology will not be available for other areas, especially when Google Life sciences has shown that monitoring, supportive, and preventive devices can be planted into soft tissue through the use of robotic units.


Not just robotics

When looking at Verb’s digital surgical platform, it is important to understand that robotics is only a part of the overall vision. Huennekens, CEO of Verb has stated that their products is a “platform for digital surgery, of which robots are just a part.”. And while the level of dedication to the robotics in surgery clearly drives the reader to conclude that the partnership is seeking such to be the primary vision and purpose of the company, we cannot exclude the digital relay of information as being part of the platform.

Currently, digital relays of information, such as digital blood testing, are popular. Digital surgery is very likely to first see success in the information surrounding “traditional” surgery practices (for example having the stats, real time video streaming of the surgery, and/or doctor updates on smart technology) before we see a spike in the robotics of surgery.


The future of digital surgery

The horizon for digital surgery is still expanding, as it is extremely new. It should prove interesting to see which company makes it to the FDA approval line first, as well as to see the various design challenges (such as the size) overcome.

To find out more about the digital surgery market please contact us on info@hanriverconsulting.com. We also have an annual private Robo-Healthcare Meeting that discusses all these issues alongside looking into the up and coming technology for our surgeons. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.