Technology Spreads Warmth Throughout the Medical Ecosystem
Genuine Care for Patients Prioritized over Technical Applications
“The fundamental goal of robotic surgery is to maximize outcomes with minimal invasion. Robotic surgery offers greater precision compared to existing procedures, and the three-dimensional images at ten times the current magnification allow surgeons to remove cancer tissues completely while minimizing damage. Postoperative complications like pneumonia are also significantly reduced since the surgeries involve less pain and bleeding, leading to a speedier recovery.”
Director Kang recommends robotic surgery only if it is suitable for patients, that is, if he sees it as the ideal solution considering the stage of disease and recovery. Robotic surgery is also known as robot-assisted surgery, which implies that robots and human surgeons join hands to carry out procedures.
“Even when the patient is opened up, the prostate is not clearly visible. This is more so for Asians, who tend to have smaller pelvises. Robots serve as valuable assistants in such situations. They eliminate vibrations of the hand, and also offer easier visual identification of cancer tissues during surgery, along with real-time monitoring of veins and blood flow. More than 70% of the procedures for prostate cancer are being converted to robotic surgery. The key advantages of robotic surgery are the speed of recovery and satisfaction among patients.” According to Director Kang, the future of medicine is shaped by the development of technology, and advanced technology should be utilized to serve the interests of patients.
Embracing Challenging Procedures and Making History
Patient Safety Cannot Be Overemphasized
Some hospitals recommend robotic surgery even for simple procedures, thus placing a huge financial burden on patients. However, Anam Hospital does not provide separate incentives to surgeons for performing robotic surgery. Since robotic surgery was first introduced in 2007, the hospital has focused on its therapeutic effectiveness and suitability for patients, not profitability. Director Kang says, “University hospitals must be capable of performing surgeries for serious conditions. I’m proud of Anam Hospital for its pioneering moves in the field and efforts to take into account both severity and diversity.” In 2007, the Robotic Surgery Center became the second institute in Asia to introduce robotic surgery, following Severance Hospital. Over the years, it has lived up to the KU spirit by taking initiatives and exercising leadership. The robotic colorectal surgical procedure developed by Professor Seon-hahn Kim of the Department of Colorectal Surgery is recognized as the world’s standard. Professor Jun Cheon of the Department of Genito-Urology contributed a part of Robotic Urologic Surgery, a textbook published by Springer. The renowned surgeon, both in Korea and around the globe, has also broadcasted live surgery on four continents. Director Kang himself, the recipient of numerous awards in the field of bladder cancer, was the first to introduce robotic radical cystectomy with total intracorporeal urinary diversion in Asia. He is known to have performed the highest number of such procedures.
The Robotic Surgery Center operates the Robot Simulation Center to enhance the skills of medical professionals at home and abroad to ultimately provide patients with the best medical services. In addition, the Robot Surgery Certification System has been implemented to improve patient safety. Director Kang says, “Surgeons must fulfill many requirements before performing robotic surgery. To pass the review of the Robot Surgery Certification Committee, they should have extensive experience in laparotomy and laparoscopy and undergo training in various areas, including animal experimentation. Those who meet such requirements will be supervised by experts while performing such procedures until they gain sufficient experience, and this contributes to the safety of patients.”
▲Aerial view of Korea University Convergence Medical Center, which will employ a personalized medicine approach
Preparing for the Age of Robotic Telesurgery
In 2001, Professor Jacques Marescaux of the Research Institute Against Digestive Cancer (IRCAD) succeeded in a telesurgical operation, considered revolutionary at that time. The surgeons in Manhattan, New York used a robot surgeon to remove the gall bladder of a 68-year-old patient in Strasbourg University Hospital, France. The operation was named the Lindbergh operation, after the aviator Charles Lindbergh, who flew solo from the United States to Paris, France in 1927 without stopping. Telesurgical operations have since developed into today’s robotic surgery, which incorporates artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technology. This is evident just by looking at neighboring countries, China and Japan. For instance, China saw the opening of 158 Internet hospitals from 2014 to May 2019. Online hospitals rely on Internet technology to deliver the same healthcare services such as consultation and diagnosis prescription based on actual hospitals. Japan, which adopted telediagnosis in 2015, has recently opened up to robotic telesurgery.
Before rushing off to his next patient at the end of the interview, Director Kang says, “Changes in science and technology can aggravate human anxiety, but they also create opportunities. Japan was later than us in adopting robotic surgery, and its recent approval of telediagnosis and telesurgery has many implications. The history of laparotomy is 100 years old while that of laparoscopy is 20 years old. Robotic surgery has a shorter history of 15 years. Given the rapid advancement of medical technology, the future is more unpredictable and exciting.”
The Robotic Surgery Center of Korea University Anam Hospital, which laid the foundation for robotic surgery in Korea, will continue driving innovation to become a mecca of future-oriented medicine.