Will robots replace orthopedic surgeons?

Medical technology is always advancing, and robotic surgery has been attracting more attention in recent years. Some hail it as the future, while others remain skeptical of the hype.

Ravi Bashyal, MD, director of outpatient hip and knee replacement surgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago, sat down with Scott Becker on "Becker's ASC Review Podcast" and weighed in.

Note: This is an edited excerpt. Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Question: Robotics in surgery — is it just another tool? Or will it replace surgeons? 

Dr. Ravi Bashyal: You can't skip learning how to do the operation properly and just count on the computer to do it for you. I like to think of it in terms of golf. If you think about Jack Nicklaus, all the clubs that he used, his woods were literally made out of wood. He did the best he could with those golf clubs. 

If Jack Nicklaus from 1975 were to play in a tournament today with the same equipment and the same training and the same preparation, he'd be demolished. But that doesn't mean that he's not one of the all-time greats. The golfers today have better equipment. They have better preparation, they have better planning. They have technology that helps them be a better golfer.

[Robotic surgery] takes people and it enhances their skills and ability. I think that if we use it in a non-substitutive manner — meaning we're not using robotics or computers to take the place of our thought process or to make us do less work — we're using them as enablers. That's going to really help us take better care of our patients and have better outcomes, which at the end of the day is what's most important for all of us. 

I think that on the planning side of things, it allows us to be ready with a game plan when we get to the operating room. And just like any other field, if you've got a good plan going in, you're much more likely to execute efficiently and accurately, whether it be robotics or patient-specific instrumentation. A lot of that requires you to have some thought and insight into the case before you're in the operating room, which I really think is half the battle. 

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