Can a Robot Help Cure Sleep Apnea?

December 24, 2011

Every few years, another new technical innovation is touted as the latest in sleep apnea treatment. One such example is robotic surgery for obstructive sleep apnea. The press plays it up like what they do for lasers and various other high-tech surgical gadgets. What they don’t tell you is that a tool is only as good as the surgeon that’s performing the procedure. I’ve used this example before: Tiger Woods can beat your pants off using $60 Wilson starter gold clubs, even if you’re using top-of-the-line, $3000 custom made golf clubs.

The laser is another such tool that people are still fascinated by—it’s just another cutting amongst a handful of useful options. They key is to know when to use it, and how to use it safely. You should be able to perform the procedure even if the laser or the robot is not available. For sleep apnea surgery, these new tools should not determine whether or not you’re going to perform the procedure at all. 

Being a gadget freak myself, I’m usually one of the first to try anything new that comes along. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you shouldn’t depend on these devices to to your surgery for you. It’s inevitable that even in the OR, there will be technical problems or software issues that prevent having the device available. Looking back, I had to spend a lot of time trouble-shooting these devices, and there’s definitely a learning curve with any new technology. One such example is 3-D image guided navigation. I use it only for my most difficult or complex sinus cases. But if you’re using it routinely, what happens when the computer crashes? It’s like having to fly a plane using visual cues and your experience if you lose instrument navigation.

I’m not saying robotic surgery doesn’t work. It can work, but only if you’re choosing the right patients to operate on and you use sound judgement and technique, whether or not you’re using robotic assistance.  

2 Responses to “Can a Robot Help Cure Sleep Apnea?”

  1. walt on January 3rd, 2012 6:34 pm

    Dr Park, I have an appointment with an ENT at U of P Hospital to discuss “Robtic Base of Tongue Surgery.” I have severe sleep apnea, a max AHI of 91, and struggle with CPAP. I was told by my regulay UNT this is the only surgery other than a Traceonomy that will help. Any thoughts? thanks

  2. Steven Park on January 5th, 2012 10:28 pm

    Walt,

    As far as I know, robotic surgery has not been proven to improve results over traditional tongue reduction procedures. With that degree of obstructive sleep apnea, it’s unlikely treating your tongue alone will cure your sleep apnea.

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