Frequently Asked Questions

I saw a PBS special on the use of robots to perform surgery on humans. One surgeon was using this method to treat holes in the knee cartilage. I had the very same operation the old fashioned way -- with a real doctor. How can these operations be done better with a machine over a trained professional?

As you probably saw in the PBS (public broadcast service) television special, robot-assisted surgery is still performed by the surgeon. It's the surgeon who is guiding the robot's mechanical arms, so this becomes another technological tool used by highly trained professionals. Computers are also aiding surgeon in navigating difficult to reach (or see) areas. For example, osteochondral lesions (cartilage and bone pulled away from the joint surface) in the ankle can be extremely difficult to reach. There are many bones in the ankle joint of various sizes and shapes all fit together to create a very mobile joint. Accessing osteochondral lesions between and under bones can be a real challenge -- even with arthroscopic tools that allow the surgeon to see inside the joint. That's where today's modern technology like robots and computers makes it possible to reach the intended site reliably and accurately. Surgeries of this type can be done with minimally invasive techniques, which means a smaller incision and less disruption of the soft tissue structures in the area. It's expected that the end result will be a more satisfied customer (patient) so-to-speak. With improved technique the patient may experience a faster reduction in pain and faster, smoother transition back into daily and sports activities. But don't worry. These sophisticated, user-friendly techniques are still in the investigation mode for many procedures. Their use in everyday, ordinary hospitals and clinics is nowhere near ready to replace the orthopedic surgeon's expertise or experience, only enhance it.

Padhraig F. O'Loughlin, MD, et al. Current Concepts in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Osteochondral Lesions of the Ankle. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2010. Vol. 38. No. 2. Pp. 392-404.

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