The past decade has seen tremendous advancements in the field of spine surgery. Patients are reaping the benefits of recently developed, minimally invasive techniques that more surgeons are learning—and using—on a regular basis. Meanwhile, increasingly sophisticated intra-operative imaging and navigation capabilities have enhanced visualization during surgery, reduced radiation exposure for both patients and medical teams, and improved surgical accuracy while decreasing time spent in the operating room for certain procedures.
Looking forward, the next major breakthrough in spine surgery is right around the corner as robot-assisted surgical systems now being developed and refined by surgeons like Dr. Chetan Patel aim to further improve the safety and outcomes for a variety of spine procedures.
As medical director of the Spine Health Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and chairman of the Robotics & Navigation Section of the North American Spine Society, Dr. Patel constantly seeks ways to raise the benchmark on surgical capabilities and outcomes. He spends considerable time working with medical device manufacturers to design and test new tools and techniques, identify which approaches have the greatest potential to produce improved patient outcomes, and once proven, help ensure that these enhanced capabilities are learned and applied by surgeons around the world. A noted researcher who holds multiple patents for surgical innovation, he is currently engaged in an exciting endeavor with Swiss designers to develop the next generation of robotic technology for use in spine operations.
What is Robotic-Assisted Surgery?
Already widely used in other specialties like gynecology, urology and oncology, robotic surgical systems employ advanced imaging and navigation systems along with a robotic component that the surgeon controls during a procedure. Ideally, the technology enables greater dexterity, reduced hand tremor, improved visualization and more precise accuracy – all very important advantages in spine surgery. It also allows for a minimally invasive approach via smaller incisions, which translates to less blood loss, less time under anesthesia, a quicker recovery time and less post-operative pain. Yet robotic systems must be specially designed for use in delicate spine surgeries, and have proven benefits prior to implementing them in the field.
Where are We Now?
Strictly speaking, the use of robotics in spine surgery is not new, but still quite limited. Those systems that have been approved for use in the United States are primarily employed in the placement of instrumentation (pedicle screws) in thoracic and lumbar spinal fusions. They were not designed to assist in the entirety of a spine operation, and have yet to be widely implemented in operating rooms nationwide. Part of the reason, as Dr. Patel has noted, is the lack of scientific evidence including randomized clinical trials that prove current robotic-assisted techniques actually boost patient outcomes as compared to traditional, “free hand” surgery. Herein lies the potential for a major medical breakthrough.
What Does the Future Hold?
Dr. Patel and his colleagues are honing in on a robotically enabled surgical system that can help surgeons to more precisely map, plan and execute spine procedures with consistently superior accuracy, motion stability and patient outcomes. Such a system should also have the capability for standardization across multiple spinal procedures, and be backed by a wealth of high-quality, clinical evidence that makes its advantages incontrovertibly clear to surgeons nationwide and around the world.
Recognized by Becker’s Spine Review as one of a select group of orthopaedic and neurosurgeons who are working with robotic systems in this country, and chosen by his peers to lead the Robotics & Navigation Section of the North American Spine Society, Dr. Patel is an ideal candidate to shepherd the next generation of technology that is set to revolutionize the field of spine health in real-world applications. Thanks to him and his colleagues, one day not too long from now, patients requiring back surgery for a variety of conditions will be able to benefit from a technologically superior approach that maximizes their chances of an excellent outcome in terms of restored functionality, reduced pain and a quick and complication-free recovery.
Robot Revolution? 70 Spine Surgeons Using Robotic Systems(12/15/2014). From Becker’s Spine Review, taken from http://www.beckersspine.com/lists/item/23643-robot-revolution-70-spine-surgeons-using-robotic-systems.html
Mazor Robotics Bets on Million-Dollar Spine Robots (2/13/2015). From The MedTech Strategist, Vol 2, No. 3, from
Robot-Guided Spine Surgery(n.d.). From MazorRobotics.com, http://mazorrobotics.com/robot-guided-spine-surgery/
Robotic & Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery (n.d.). From PinnacleHealth.org: http://spine.pinnaclehealth.org/Our-Services/Surgical-Treatment-Options/Robotic-Minimally-Invasive-Spine-Surgery.aspx