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Published on November 01, 2022

surgeon using robotic assisted device

Orthopedic Surgeon Q&A: No, the Robot Doesn’t Take Over During Surgery

Your ongoing knee, hip or shoulder pain could be resolved with joint replacement surgery. The thought of operating on a major joint might seem intimidating at first, but you have access to the industry’s best technology and procedures.

Across the region, the experts of Avera Orthopedics use the latest technology to relieve joint pain. Joint replacement surgery is often supported by 3-D software and robotic-arm technology to help plan and perform surgery.

Travis Liddell, MD, orthopedic surgeon with Avera Orthopedics in Sioux Falls and Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Orthopedic Service Line, answers questions you might have about 3-D and robotic technology.

Why is 3-D technology helpful for orthopedic surgery?

The technology builds a 3-D model of the joint, giving us an accurate assessment to choose the right size of implant and plan the implant’s position within the joint. We can virtually plan the surgery and maneuver around any bone deformity or defect before the patient comes in for the actual procedure. This potentially improves patient outcome.

What is the purpose of the robotic arm?

The robotic arm is a precise cutting tool that the surgeon still manually operates during surgery.

What are the potential benefits to the patient?

Robotic technology aids in the patient’s journey by personalizing their treatment plan, enhancing the surgery-planning process, cutting smaller and more precise incisions, and reducing recovery times.

However, there’s no replacement for a skilled surgeon. A good surgeon supported by the newest technology will potentially lead to your best outcome possible.

How common is it for orthopedic surgeons to use 3-D technology and robotics?

Not all surgeons use robotics in the OR. Many surgeons only use it on a case-by-case basis. I use it very often for hip, knee and shoulder joint replacements.

Why not use it?

There’s no downside to using robots, but sometimes it depends on whether there is an added benefit for the patients — particularly if they’re younger or very active. A much older adult with lower physical demands may have just as good an outcome with a traditional joint replacement surgery by a skilled surgeon.

What would you tell a patient about robotic surgery who’s a candidate for it?

The robot is a hyper-precise instrument that helps me make cuts exactly where we have planned out. If you’re a candidate, it’s just another great tool to enhance your outcome.

Does the robot take over?

No, your surgeon is still the one doing the surgery. People have a perception that I’m in a back room with a joystick. No, I’m doing the surgery, scrubbed in and in the operating room.

If your patient is afraid, what would you say to them to build trust?

Facing any surgery can be overwhelming. I do hundreds of robotic-assisted surgeries each year, as well as robot-free surgeries. It’s a great tool, but it’s no substitute for expertise and experience. Here at Avera Orthopedics, surgery is what we’re trained to do. We offer an incredible team of surgeons, surgical techs and nurses.

Are there any other technologies on the horizon?

Robotic surgery in general has come a long way. The industry continues to tweak and improve that technology. We’re seeing that tech is better now than five years ago and will continue to improve in the next five years.

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