Once in a while, I read something on the Internet that is so silly, so outrageous that I can't help myself. I must speak up.
Such a situation occurred a few days ago when I came across an article called "DIY [do it yourself] Surgery: The Future of Medicine?" on a website called FastCompany.
An "interaction designer" named Frank Kolkman has created a robotic Open Surgery Machine which he proposes could fill in need when "middle-class" US citizens who have no access to healthcare require surgery.
My favorite line from the article is an explanation of what Mr. Kolkman's robot can do. "It's designed to perform simple surgeries like laparoscopic surgery in which three or more small keyhole incisions are made to allow a surgeon to operate inside a part of the patient's body after inflating it with CO2."
He proposes that "appendectomies, prostate operations, hysterectomies, and also colon and general inspections" could be done.
But now that we're halfway through the story, we learn that despite the presence of photographs giving the appearance of a home operating room [see below], the whole idea is only theoretical.
Why would the robot, which supposedly would be operating inside the abdomen, need a light shining on the outside of the patient?
But wait, there’s more. "These procedures are already often performed with the assistance of robotic surgery systems; the DIY Surgery Robot would just take those doctors out of the equation."
We have a long way to go before robots will be able to operate on their own.
Performing surgery is a lot different than assembling an automobile, something that robots are good at. The problem is all appendectomies are not the same. Some are easy, and others take a tremendous amount of effort, skill, and judgment to even find the appendix, let alone remove it. Colon resections? Not going to happen with a robot operating alone.
Here are some other questions that the inventor of the do-it-yourself robotic surgery machine has failed to consider.
Is the robot going to make the correct diagnosis? If so, how?
Laparoscopic surgery requires general anesthesia. Who is going to anesthetize the patient? Yes, there is a so-called robotic anesthesia machine. But it has only been used for administering medications and cannot deal with any sort of emergency such as an intravenous catheter falling out or a patient requiring a tube to be placed in his airway. Humans must still attend the patient.
How much would this DIY robot surgeon cost? If the middle-class American can’t afford health insurance, how is she going to afford a robot surgeon that she may never use. What about the cost of the instruments? Who is going to sterilize them and hand them to the robot? Where is the patient going to recover from the anesthetic? What happens if the robot screws up? Maybe the robot can drive the patient to a hospital.
Just like robots operating in space, the DIY robot surgeon is not yet ready for prime time.
PS: I almost forgot; appendectomies are obsolete. Appendicitis should be treated with antibiotics. Maybe the robot can at least start your IV.