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Archive May 2017 XVIII, No. 5

Robotic Benefits Without the Robot

Handheld instruments that provide robot-like functionality.

Outpatient Surgery Editors


Kent Bowden, DO DEXTERITY Kent Bowden, DO, says FlexDex gives you robot-like functionality at a fraction of the cost of a robotic surgery system.

If your facility can't afford or doesn't really need a $2 million robotic surgical system, you can just buy the arm. "Surgeon-powered" robotic arms that move like a surgeons' wrist and robotic-arm assisted technology that provide more accurate placement and alignment of artificial joints can do (almost) anything a robot can do at a fraction of the cost, giving you the benefits of a robot without the exorbitant price tag. Here's some background on both handheld options.

The $500 robotic surgeon
The FlexDex robotic arm is surgeon-powered and costs $500. No electronics, no battery and no motor. Its blue plastic mount attaches to a surgeon's wrist like a corsage. It transfers the motions of the hand, wrist and arm into robotic-like movements that can be used to perform less complex minimally invasive procedures. Its sensitive controls respond to the surgeon's slightest movements. In or out, up or down, left or right, wherever the surgeon moves his hand and wrist, the tip of the instrument moves in unison — unlike traditional straight-stick laparoscopic instruments that move in the opposite direction of the surgeon's hand. Plus, it can rotate or roll infinitely, giving surgeons the same ability to sew laparoscopically as a robot.

Yes, a robot arm also moves like a surgeon's wrist, but it takes a $2 million robot on the back end to drive it. Only a handful of surgeons are using FlexDex during a limited rollout. One of them is Kent Bowden, DO, a general surgeon at Munson Healthcare Cadillac (Mich.) Hospital. He's used it in about 20 cases, including inguinal and ventral hernias and to repair a colonic serosal tear.

"It makes laparoscopic surgery more like open surgery," says Dr. Bowden. "It give you so much flexibility. Plus, no additional staff is needed, no consoles, no huge capital expenses."

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