One of the biggest developments in orthopaedic surgery in recent years has been the introduction of ‘robotic joint replacement’. The first misconception that we often have to clear up is that this development does not replace the orthopaedic surgeon and that the robotic arm is not actually performing the surgery independently. Robotic joint replacement technology such as the industry gold standard Mako system is aimed at improving the patient outcome by ensuring more precision.
The Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Total Knee replacement is for people with mid to late-stage knee osteoarthritis that is causing them pain and a lack of mobility. A CT scan of your knee is taken, which is then uploaded into the Mako System software. A 3D model of your knee is then created, which is used by the surgeon to work out a plan of action.
When it’s time for surgery, the Mako system comes into its own. In theory, the surgeon follows the plan to the letter by guiding the system’s robotic-arm to remove diseased bone and cartilage within the pre-defined area – and best of all, the system ensures that the work needed is kept within the pre-planned boundaries. I can’t stress this enough: the surgeon is always in control of the procedure and can even override their original plans if necessary.
What are the pros of robotic knee replacement surgery?
The most important of the robotic knee replacement advantages is that it gives orthopaedic surgeons the opportunity to create a more bespoke plan of action with greater accuracy than before. Furthermore, it allows surgeons to individually optimise each particular replacement joint, giving them a better chance to create a perfect fit first time, significantly lowering the risk of post-surgical complications and the need for a second procedure. The risk of blood loss is reduced and there is an improvement in safety levels, as the system only allows them to perform the procedure within the area mapped out by their pre-op plan.
For the patient, the two most significant benefits are a shortening in rehab time (as less of an area in the knee needs to recover, due to no superfluous areas have been operated on), and the reassurance of improved safety and a reduction in post-op complications.
What are the cons of robotic knee replacement surgery?
Robotic assisted knee replacement is relatively new technology, particularly in performing total knee replacements, so although the clinical studies performed so far are encouraging, more longer-term studies are needed.
The procedure takes slightly longer to perform than a conventional joint replacement so the risk of infection could be slightly increased, although to what amount is uncertain at present.
More importantly, by leaning harder on a computerised system, some surgeons have already pointed out that any system is only as good as the data it uses and the people who process it, meaning that the quality of the scans used need to be of the highest quality and extra time and resources are going to have to be funnelled into the training of staff to get the optimal effects with the Mako system.
The cost of the procedure is also slightly more than a conventional joint replacement because a CT scan is required of the joint to plan the procedure.