I’m sure we all have heard the theories about robots eventually replacing us. In movies, books, and games, this idea has been everywhere for decades now, and with the current progress in the industry, it’s beginning to seem more likely. While a big part of this possible revolution may be scary, there are parts of it that can bring a positive impact on humanity.
One of them is undoubtedly the surgical industry. The precision and consistency of a human surgeon are biologically limited. However, robotic ones can work at a level that simply wasn’t reachable until now.
Personally, I’ve marginally known about surgical robots for quite a few years, but I never knew to what extent they were in use. Luckily, growth consulting and program management company Marketsandmarkets Research has just published a report about the current state and projected future of the industry. So let’s analyze how this industry came to be and then dive into its current progress.
A history of surgical robots
Surprisingly, the surgical robot history begins far before what we can imagine. The first robot to assist in a surgical procedure was performed by the Arthrobot in 1983. In the years since many improvements have taken place. Surgical robots initially started as assistants, then started doing biopsies, and finally, in 1998 they started doing real surgeries, albeit under human control. Zeus, the first surgical robot to do so, required a human to operate it from the distance, still, the industry was far from perfect but it started to allow things human surgeons alone wouldn’t be capable of.
With Zeus, we started using surgical robots in more and more types of surgeries. Fallopian tube reconnection, beating heart coronary artery bypass graft, and cholecystectomy are famous examples. It is even noted that it managed to harvest the internal mammary arteries of 19 patients with all of them having successful outcomes. The Da Vinci system came shortly after Zeus in the year 2000 and proved even more successful performing even heart bypasses and kidney transplants.
How they are used today
Surgical robots today are common. In 2018, 15% of all surgeries in the US were done by robots. It has to be noted that for some illnesses, these procedures are still recommended to be done by humans. The industry is not perfect but we’re getting somewhere. Robots can now be swallowed as a pill and your digital twin can give full insights about your condition to doctors.
According to the aforementioned report from MarketsandMarkets, the estimated value of the industry was $8.5 billion in 2022. It is expected to grow more than double to an estimated $18.4 billion by 2027. The report expands further on the progress separated by continents. It points out that although the current largest market is North America, the Asia Pacific region will have the fastest growth due to the heavy healthcare investments. The key market driver behind this growth is the proven lower than humans error rate.
The specific area where surgical robots are projected to grow the most is orthopedic surgery. The report goes into length about how the increased obesity rates and relative demand will lead to it.
Overall, surgical robots are here to stay. Replacing us in this context means easing the lives of both patients and doctors. It should be used with caution and talked about with professionals first, but with technology done properly, it can only lead to good things.