Future of surgery: Robots performing C-sections will soon become a reality

Controlled by healthcare assistants, robots will soon be delivering babies by carrying out C-sections as well as other surgeries, say experts. (Image: futureofsurgery/Corindus)

Robotics are expected to become so sophisticated that hospitals may not need surgeons now.

Controlled by healthcare assistants, the machines will soon be delivering babies by carrying out C-sections as well as other surgeries, experts said.

The predictions are based on the report by the ‘Commission on the Future of Surgery’ set up by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2017.

Technologies such as surgical robots, artificial intelligence, three-dimensional printing, and new imaging methods are already changing and will continue to change the way surgical care is delivered.

Developments in fields such as genomics, regenerative medicine, and cell-based therapies could open new avenues for predicting and treating disease, which was unthinkable only a few years ago.

3D printers used as training tools for surgeons at Alder Hey Innovation Hub.(Image: Alder Hey Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)

But, medics must proceed with caution after a landmark inquest this year revealed, a 69-year-old man died when a robot was used to carry out his heart surgery in 2015.

According to the report

1. The robots controlled by healthcare assistants such as technicians are expected to conduct vaginal surgeries and operations on the bowel, heart, and lungs.

2. This will help advance diagnoses of illnesses like cancer before they destroy organs and, as a result, operations will be smaller in scale and less traumatic.

3. Even healthcare assistants – who do not need any formal qualifications to get a job – could one day be trained to perform C-sections with the robots.

4. While some applications of robots and DNA-based medicines are expected to happen sooner than others, those with healthcare assistant-led C-sections is possible within five years, the report said.

5. The commission’s report also claims that major cancer operations could become a thing of past because screening DNA will pick up diseases earlier before they ravage the body.

6. Similarly, people with severe forms of arthritis could be identified early on and faster treatment might reduce the need for major hip and knee replacement ops.

“These big, set-piece operations will become less common as we are able to intervene earlier and use more moderate interventions,” said Professor Dion Mortonm, a member of the commission.

Will it be safe?

Specialists and surgeons will remain in charge of operations but may not always need to be in the room.

“This is always going to be under the watchful eye and careful supervision of a surgeon,” Richard Kerr, a neurosurgeon at the Oxford University and Chair of the commission, was quoted as saying.

“These are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure.”

The human touch of the clinician and their relationship with the patient will remain central to the delivery of excellent care. The ethical and regulatory framework must keep up with advances in technology to ensure patient safety.

“The changes are expected to affect every type of operation. This will be a watershed moment in surgery,” Kerr said.

The future operating theatre

  • Operating theatres are likely to look different with greater integration of digital technologies
  • In the long-term, AI could be used to schedule procedures, request instruments and monitor the environment
  • Digital systems will also provide guidance to the operating team and show enhanced anatomical imaging
  • Theatre space will become more flexible and dynamic, as equipment will be smaller and lighter.