Medical robotics systems are causing a paradigm shift in healthcare therapy. The most widespread surgical robot, Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci system, has been discussed in over 4,000 peer-reviewed publications, was cleared by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for multiple categories of operations, and was used in 80% of radical prostatectomies performed in the U.S. for 2008, just nine years after the system went on the market.
The rapid growth in medical robotics systems is driven by a combination of technological improvements (motors, materials, and control theory), advances in medical imaging (higher resolutions, magnetic resonance imaging, and 3D ultrasound), and an increase in surgeon/patient acceptance of both laparoscopic procedures and robotic assistance. New uses for medical robots are created regularly, as in the initial stages of any technology-driven revolution.
The greatest impact of medical robots has been in surgeries, both radiosurgery and tissue manipulation in the operating room, which are improved by precise and accurate motions of the necessary tools. Through robot assistance, surgical outcomes can be improved, patient trauma can be reduced, and hospital stays can be shortened, though the effects of robot assistance on long-term results are still under investigation.
Slow Growth yet Market Has Massive Potential
Now, after more than 30 years of activities and compared to many other fields of medical technology, medical robotics systems still can be considered as of being in its infant state. The number of commercially available setups actually could be increased, but only few of them really have created significant impact. Many research questions have been addressed in order to improve the technology, but the gap between research in laboratories and real use in surgical routine seems to get even bigger. If one looks to the main reasons for this slow adaptation of new technology, it turns out to mostly not being related to technical functioning, but to other factors.
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Many different robotic systems have been developed for invasive medical procedures. In this article we will focus on robotic systems for minimally invasive interventions such as biopsy of suspicious lesions or needle placement for spinal blocks. While medical robots have been applied in many fields such as neurosurgery, orthopedics, and urology, they are not the standard of care in any field and in fact very limited market penetration has occurred. This limited use is no doubt due to the many challenges that need to be overcome in developing a robotic system for a medical application. In particular, safety is an overriding concern and must be considered from the start in any medical robotic system. Note that in the factory, we do everything we can to keep people away from robots, but in the medical environment many robotic systems are designed to work with people nearby, and all medical robotics systems systems must ensure safe operation with a patient in the workspace of the robot. Despite these challenges, we believe that medical robotic systems have a place in minimally invasive procedures, and this article describes several systems developed by the authors for this purpose.
Increasing Demand for Cutting Edge Technology
Currently, manufacturers in medical robots market are deploying powerful motors, compact materials, power backup, and advanced controls and safety mechanisms in medical robotic systems, in order to improve their overall usability. As a result, the popularity of these systems has increased by leaps and bounds, which is likely to reflect positively on their demand in the coming years. Besides, the increased capacity of customers to afford expensive medical care, thanks to the considerable rise in the per capita income, is also anticipated to boost the demand for medical robotic systems, globally, in the near future.
While the market is expected to rise steadily, the apprehensions by patients to undergo robotic surgeries due to the massive sum incurred may hamper the market’s growth to some extent. The sky-high prices of medical robots are also projected to limit their usage in hospitals and end-use sectors in the coming years. However, the growing trend of automation is expected to provide significant growth opportunities to players in this market over the next few years.
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