During robotic spine surgery is the surgeon replaced by the robot?
Dr. Poulter: I am happy to report the answer is “no”. Instead of being an independent device that performs a procedure, the robot functions as a tool to assist a surgeon with critical portions of spinal fusion surgery.
How is the robot different from other technologies for spine surgery?
Dr. Poulter: The human spine is a fascinating and complex structure. It allows us to be upright and flexible all while protecting delicate nerve structures. But, unfortunately, our spines age and wear out and there are times when surgery is necessary to address the problems that arise.
When operating on the spine, you have to remember that it is an unforgiving place that requires a gentle touch and accuracy. Surgeons that care for spinal conditions undergo years of training to learn to navigate safely around nerves and other delicate structures. Over the years, technologies have been developed to help surgeons perform surgery more safely such as intraoperative CT scans and minimally invasive techniques.
The Mazor X Robotic Guidance System is the latest advancement in these efforts. Unlike previous technologies that may assist with how a surgeon is able to see, the robot takes it a step further by precisely aligning a surgeon’s instruments to the safe areas of the spine.
What are the unique components of robotic spine surgery?
Dr. Poulter: The first unique component of robotic spine surgery is the ability to plan. Previously, we could look at MRI’s, X-rays and CT scans to understand what a patient needed during surgery. It is similar to looking at a map and knowing how to get from point A to point B, but we didn’t have the ability to plan out exactly where our instruments and implants would go.
The Mazor X takes a CT scan, which is done pre-operatively, and allows us to plan out to 1mm detail exactly where we want to place our instruments.
The second unique capability is that the robotic arm then guides us to the exact spot outlined in the plan. It is the combination of being able to plan like never before and to predictably follow that plan which provides a high level of safety.
It is this union of human capabilities, training and the precision of a robot that makes robotic surgery different. A surgeon still performs the surgery because we are able to understand and adapt to new situations in ways that cannot be matched by a computer. Those abilities are now enhanced by the robot’s superior capacity for exact planning and movement. Together that allows for safer surgery through much smaller incisions. This results in less pain and a quicker recovery for patients having spine surgery.
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