In March 2016, a research team reported the first successful instance of a robot performing a delicate surgical procedure better than humans could. In the experiment, which researchers claimed was a prelude to potential clinical trials, the robot, known as STAR, or Smart-Tissue Autonomous Robot, was able to suture together a pig’s bowel during an open surgery. Although STAR’s lead researcher said the technology still has flaws that need ironing out, he envisions a world where robotic surgeons are commonplace in New York and other states.
The procedure involved the manipulation of soft tissues, so the researchers said the test also demonstrated their ability to effectively represent and track malleable flesh. In the past, robots have performed well with hard tissue due to its stability, but STAR’s robot arm was able to use modeling data in conjunction with imaging tools and pressure sensors to determine exactly where to stitch.
Although the research team believes their devices might be used to set high practice standards and demonstrate exemplary procedures, other medical professionals weren’t as quick to give their full support. One cancer surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, who routinely promotes the use of advanced technology in surgery, said that automated operations pose new risks, especially when surgeons can’t be present or when procedures are potentially fatal.
Robotic surgery is still in its infancy, and although proponents believe it might reduce the incidence of injuries from medical malpractice, existing tools still rely on human oversight. This means hospitals must institute and follow effective procedures to raise the chances of a successful outcome. Victims who have been harmed by surgical mistakes may want to have their attorneys investigate the circumstances when determining the next step to take.