Robotic arm enhancement to accommodate improved efficiency and decreased resource utilization in complex minimally invasive surgical procedures

W P Geis, H C Kim, E J Brennan, P C McAfee, Y Wang
Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 1996, 29: 471-81
Resource allocation, including manpower and other expenses, have limited the evolution of minimally invasive surgical procedures to provide humanism and to improve surgical care for patients. Robotic enhancement has been proposed as a mechanism to improve the cost-benefit relationship for patients. To this end, we have used the robotic arm enhancement to minimize resource and personnel utilization during minimally invasive procedures. Phase I of our study has included the use of the robotic arm in 24 laparoscopic hernia repairs, cholecystectomies, and nissen fundoplications with the surgeon as a solo surgeon, i.e., the primary surgeon is the only participant in the operative sterile field. The scrub nurse did not participate in the procedures. During this study, there were no technical mishaps, no complications related to the solo surgeon-robotic arm concept, and the operative times were statistically similar to equivalent procedures utilizing multiple personnel. The hernia repair is least complex and most amenable to solo surgery due to the use of only three access ports; cholecystectomy occasionally requires four access ports increasing its complexity to a measurable degree. Nissen fundoplication, however, requires five access ports and proved to be the most complex of the procedures to adapt successfully to solo surgery utilizing robotic arm enhancement. Phase II of our study has involved the use of a combination of technologically complex and sophisticated technology to improve outcomes in complex laparoscopic procedures. The head-mounted display, the robotic arm, and the harmonic scalpel have been used in 140 complex minimally invasive procedures; the procedures were laparoscopic spine surgery (24 cases), laparoscopic gastric surgery (28 cases), and laparoscopic colon resection (88 cases). The use of these sophisticated technologies added safety, improved versatility, and did not increase the length of the operative procedures. The use of multiple technologies had an additive effect on the benefits. There were no experiences in which the technologies contributed to a technical complication or an adverse result for the patients. However, the successful use of these technologies requires an in depth educational experience for the surgeon and for the operating room team. In a further effort to improve efficiency and control of the visual fields during minimally invasive surgery, we have implemented a prototype voice activation, head-directed control, and instrument tracking by robotic arm enhancement in order to control the visual field through computer programming. Prototype voice activation and deactivation also allows instruments to be used in the visual field for the surgical procedure while not being used for tracking of the visual field. Tracking with the instrument utilizing a color-coded tracking system, and the head-directed control system have both been 100% effective in our hands, have not induced errors in technical performance of procedures, and have shortened the time required for performance of specific procedural tasks. Further, this process improves versatility for the surgeon, increases concentration, reduces fatigue and does not interfere with the position of the surgeon. Areas for improvement which have been observed utilizing these techniques are (1) the use of appropriate and consistent voice activation terminology, (2) the proper positioning of the instrument tracking unit in the most appropriate locations on the video screen and on the instrument within the visual field, and (3) the appropriate use of head-directed control of the robotic arm. We have concluded from these experiences that the robotic technology will continue to reduce costs and minimize risk for patients undergoing minimally invasive surgical procedures; moreover, safety, versatility, and diminished use of resources will accrue utilizing the additive benefit of sequential sophisticated technologies requiring a simultaneous educational

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