Working with machines – How robotic arms have helped doctors achieve better patient outcomes in heart surgeries

20170112090000, Sam Lai
Robotic surgery
This novel approach can enhance the accuracy and reduce uncertainties associated with conducting heart surgeries.
In 2014, Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital introduced the robotic arm technology to gradually replace traditional open-heart surgeries. The robotic technology is also available in several other public hospitals, but Queen Mary was the first and only hospital applying the technology to heart surgeries.

14 patients have benefited from the technology so far. Mr Fong, a 66-year-old patient, recalled his relief after the surgery: “I was quite worried when I found out I had to undergo this surgery. Contrary to what I thought, I was able to return to my home just 12 days after the operation, which was a pretty quick recovery. I didn’t even need to take any painkillers after my stay in the hospital.”

Robotic Arm Technology vs. Traditional open-heart surgeries


In alignment with Mr Fong’s experience, making use of robotic arm technology in heart surgeries is claimed to achieve a reduction in surgical wound size, speeding up recovery and minimizing the occurrence of possible complications.

Traditionally, surgeons need to incise the middle of the patient’s chest and sternum. The incision would maximally reach up to 30cm, which would take up to 12 weeks to heal. The pain accompanying the wound would also render patient movement limited and prevent them from carrying most loads during recovery.

This novel approach can enhance the accuracy and reduce uncertainties associated with conducting heart surgeries. “Apart from the robotic arms, the surgeries are conducted with the help of 3D cameras. The images are even better than that of a 3D movie,” consultant surgeon Dr Tai-leung Chan revealed.

Table 1: Comparison between the robotic arm and traditional open-heart surgeries
Table 1: Comparison between the robotic arm and traditional open-heart surgeries

Administrative and technological limitations of this technology


Due to a rapidly ageing population, the number of heart operations is expected to increase locally. However, since the robotic arm machine is shared with other teams in the hospital, the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery can only use the machine once a month. Hence, patients usually need to wait for four to six months before undergoing the surgery.

Additionally, patients must satisfy some criteria to undergo the surgery. ‘The surgery is not suitable for patients who are too old or too weak physically. A certain number of scars and incisions resulting from previous surgeries would also make it more difficult for the surgery,’ Dr Wing-kuk Au, chief of service at Queen Mary’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, said.

Despite the limitations, doctors support the idea of putting more investment in this cutting-edge technology for the benefits of patients. “We hope to promote the technology so that more patients can benefit,” Au added. MIMS

Read more:
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Sources:
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2054504/how-robotic-arm-technology-can-improve-heart
https://www.am730.com.hk/news
http://hk.on.cc/hk/bkn/cnt/news/20161215/bkn-20161215000115307-1215_00822_001.html
http://www.hk01.com/