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What Is Computer Assisted Surgery?

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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Computer assisted surgery refers to surgical methods that make use of computer technology like 3D imaging to aid in planning and executing surgical procedures. These methods enable physicians to better visualize the target area and give a more accurate diagnosis. It is valuable in planning and performing surgeries that require high precision, such as in neurosurgery and orthopedic procedures.

Obtaining an accurate image is crucial to performing computer assisted surgery. Various imaging techniques like computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are used to gather data and produce a 3D model of the target area. The 3D model allows the surgeon to examine and manipulate the organ or structure to establish a more accurate diagnosis. The model also allows the surgeon to plan and simulate the surgery before performing the actual procedure.

The main advantage of computer assisted surgery is improved accuracy and higher precision in diagnosing, planning, and execution of surgeries. Its ability to provide simulations means that the surgeon can rehearse on the model before operating on the patient. For this reason, it can also be used in training other physicians on complex and difficult surgical procedures. There are disadvantages as well, however. Obtaining the system and training surgeons in its use entails costs, and installing and updating the software takes time.

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Computer assisted surgery methods have contributed to the development of robotic surgery, which makes use of computerized systems of robots to perform the actual surgery. While robotic surgery makes use of a large degree of computer assistance, computer assisted surgery in itself does not make use of robots to execute the surgical procedure. A surgeon performing robotic surgery may use assisted surgery imaging and simulation techniques in preparation for the procedure.

Research institutes and universities were the first ones to develop these systems in the 1980s. They were mainly used as experimental devices and were not commercially available. Today, companies that manufacture medical equipment are also developing commercial computer assisted surgery software like StealthStation® and VectorVision® .

As the technology becomes more available, the cost of acquiring computer assisted surgery systems is expected to go down and will be within reach of more medical institutions. More surgeons in training will benefit from the computer assisted surgery simulators and the opportunity to gain experience in performing complex surgeries without having to practice on actual patients. Continuing development of the technology will mean more accurate diagnosis and treatment and better clinical outcomes. As a result, more patients will benefit from improved medical care.

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