If there is anything that we can count on in healthcare, it’s constant innovation. From new medicines to approaches to care delivery, the world of patient care is constantly evolving. One area where we have seen this in recent years is the increased use robotic-assisted surgery. Once seemingly something out of science fiction, this surgical approach is becoming more prevalent, especially for gynecologic and urologic procedures.
This is due in part to significant advancements in the technology designed to improve the experience for both patients and clinicians. With some systems, surgeons have the ability to control cameras pointed at the surgical area with a simple eye movement. Additionally, the miniaturization of electronics can mean smaller, more versatile robotic arms, expanding the range of procedures in which robotics can have a role.
While the future is promising for robotic-assisted surgery, the introduction of any new technology or approach can mean challenges to workflow and new potential risks to navigate. In the case of robotic-assisted surgery, consider the following:
- Preparing for Mechanical or Connectivity Challenges: Any mechanical device has the potential for failure, and surgical robots are no exception. While device manufacturers build in features to help minimize this potential—including system redundancy, fault tolerance, just-in time maintenance, and system alerting—healthcare organizations need to ensure that they have proper risk mitigation strategies and resources in place for potential data, connectivity and mechanical issues, which typically are outside the expertise of the surgical team.
- Impact on Workflows and Minimizing Delays: Leveraging surgical robotic technology can impact a number of workflow variables, including room setup time, time for draping and docking the robot, skin to skin procedure time, undocking/storage time and room turnover time. Ensuring drapes and other surgical solutions designed for these specific processes and the varying needs of the technology involved are on hand can shave precious minutes off set up and turnover time in a busy OR.
- Education and Training: As the technology continues to evolve, it’s critical that surgical teams are up-to-date on the latest guidelines, as well as their own organization’s protocols and expectations for various roles during robotic-assisted surgical procedures. A critical element of this is ongoing education. According to the Association for Surgical Technologists, this education should be specific to the technology used by an organization and should include how to connect the robot system components; proper setup, draping and positioning of arms; proper technique for inspecting robotic instruments for functionality and defects; and proper cleaning, disinfection and sterilization of reusable instruments, among other topics.
While new technology and approaches can mean new promise and improved outcomes for patients, it’s important to consider new areas of potential risk and the impact on the day-to-day workflow for those charged with their care. Taking a thoughtful approach to education and ensuring close collaboration between surgical teams and others who have traditionally had a more tangential role in surgical cases—such as IT and biomedical engineering—helps to mitigate these risks and ensure patient-centered care in an increasingly robotic world.