With precision paramount, it is not difficult to see why surgery is benefitting exponentially from increasingly exciting new technologies. Pioneering new devices and procedures are already making great strides in the treatment of patients and improving working conditions for surgeons across the world. But what will surgery look like in the years to come? Here are five of the top new technologies that look set to shape the future of surgery.
Robot-assisted surgery has developed at pace over the past two decades and proved to be an area of innovative development in medicine.
According to Dr. Mark Slack, Chief Medical Officer at UK-based CMR Surgical, a global surgical robotics company, hospitals are looking for the most cutting-edge technologies to help them address demands on the healthcare system. He observed:
“Surgical technology innovation such as robotic-assisted surgery can help improve outcomes for patients and this largely drives development and continuous innovation.”
The company’s surgical robot Versius was designed to enable more minimal access surgery (MAS) and is used by surgeons across gynecology, urology, thoracic, general and colorectal surgery. He added:
“MAS has significant benefits for patients—from less pain, scarring and complications, to less time spent in hospital. However, it is extremely physically and mentally demanding to perform, meaning that it is not used in almost half of cases worldwide where it could be. Surgical robots like Versius provide a practical way to perform more MAS.”
With Versius, surgeons have 3D HD vision, which can give them better depth perception, alongside fully-wristed instruments that can improve precision and control—particularly in complex cases.
The robot comprises an open surgeon console and up to four independent bedside units or arms—one of which has an endoscope and the other three with surgical instruments. This allows the surgeon to mimic their own human movement, enabling precise surgeries while also making long procedures less strenuous. Dr. Slack said:
“What makes us unique is our patented V-wrist technology, which allows our small, fully wristed instruments to have seven degrees of freedom, which can be rotated 360 degrees in both directions by the arm.
It is this technology, which biomimics the human arm, that has helped us to make the units so much smaller than other systems. With this technology, surgeons have increased precision, accuracy and dexterity.”
He also sees data as a hugely important part of the future of surgery, believing its collection and analysis will help standardize surgery and enhance patient care. He added:
“We also believe robotic telemetry and remote proctoring capabilities can reduce the learning curve and increase proficiency and speed of training surgeons.”
2/ 3D Printing
3D printing, where bespoke solid objects are created from a digital file, is also increasingly being used in surgery. The technology can be employed to print custom-created implants and bone scaffolds, including replacement joints, which fit better.
3D printing can also be used to make prosthetics and patient-specific anatomic models, as well as surgical instruments and cutting guides.
For example, 3D specialist Stratasys has developed its J5 MediJet, a solution that allows hospitals to easily create models for emergency procedures.
These 3D-printed guides aid pre-surgical planning and improve patient outcomes by reducing complications, decreasing operation time and length of hospital stays.
3/ Cameras and Imaging
Imaging procedures have long held a role in surgery. Indeed the first use of X-rays during a surgical procedure took place towards the end of the 19th century.
Today high-quality camera and imaging techniques perform essential roles both inside and outside the body—before, during and after surgical procedures. Offering high-definition 2D and 3D images, they not only guide the surgeon and enable much greater precision, but they also permit live interaction between remote teams and improved training.
Recent innovations in the field include a smart surgical imaging system from Imperial College London that precisely visualizes the boundaries of a tumor in the breast.
Employing fluorescence-guided surgery (FGS), it provides real-time intra-operative macroscopic visualization of the targeted tissue and helps surgeons resect more efficiently.
4/ Augmented reality (AR)
AR technology takes patient images and other digital information and overlays it onto a patient during an operation to help guide the surgeon’s technique.
Through the use of a headset, real-time, 3D views of the patient’s anatomy are provided, so professionals can better visualize the surgical site and make more informed decisions during the procedure.
For example, US-based Augmedics has developed its Spine System that allows surgeons to “see” the patient’s anatomy through skin and tissue as if they have X-ray vision. This way they can accurately navigate instruments and implants during spine procedures.
5/ Virtual Reality (VR)
VR also employs a headset but takes the medic into a virtual world rather than a real-world setting. It is already proving to be an important technology in surgery and looks set to shape the future of medical operations.
Juan Castillo is Marketing Director at 3DforScience, a scientific communication studio. He explained:
“Our solutions allow users to dive into a virtual world where they get an immersive experience to understand complex medical information, science related topics or even replicate microscopic situations such as a cell environment to show a trip through the bloodstream.”
VR simulations can be used to provide surgeons and trainees with a safe, controlled environment in which to practice and develop their skills, without the need for live animals or cadavers. They can allow surgeons to plan and practice a surgical procedure before performing it on the patient. He said:
“VR technology has also been used in actual surgical procedures. For example, some surgeons use VR headsets to view 3D images of a patient’s anatomy during surgery, allowing them to see inside the body and better visualize the surgical site.
This can help the surgeon to perform the procedure more accurately and effectively, and to avoid damaging healthy tissue.”
Castillo also views the metaverse as an exciting concept to watch. He said:
“This is still largely theoretical, but if it were to become a reality, it could potentially be used in surgery in a number of ways.
The metaverse could be used to create virtual surgical training environments, allowing trainees to practice and develop their skills in a realistic but safe and controlled environment.
It could also be used to connect surgeons with other experts and resources, allowing them to collaborate and share information in real time, potentially improving the quality of surgical care.”