Pioneering robot-assisted knee surgery has been carried out at a UAE government hospital for the first time - with the doctor who led the operation saying it is the "tip of the iceberg" for medical advancements in the country.
The cutting-edge procedure was carried out successfully on a 61-year-old Emirati father at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Dr Yaaqoub Al Hammadi, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon and knee and sport surgery specialist at the hospital, said robotic support improves accuracy in the operating theatre.
While the cost is high, the senior surgeon said you can't put a price on the ability to provide patients with a better standard of care.
“This is the beginning of the future,” said Dr Al Hammadi.
“There will come a day in the medical field where every procedure will be assisted by artificial intelligence. It gives you better accuracy and consistency.
“There are those who don’t want change maybe because of the requirement to retrain and enter new courses.”
Dr Al Hammadi said, however, that change is inevitable and should be encouraged.
Robotic surgery gives surgeons a 3D-image and a magnified 360-degree view of the patient’s body. The surgeon then uses controls in a console to manipulate very small surgical instruments attached to a robotic arm to operate.
The treatment is mapped out by a computer according to the specific needs of the patient.
“It is customizing surgery to the patient,” said Dr Al Hammadi.
The robots used in the procedures come at a cost of more than $2 million (Dh7.35 million) but Dr Al Hammadi insists “you cannot put a value to better patient outcomes”.
Robotic surgery is also faster, allowing doctors to ultimately provide care for more patients and cut waiting lists.
At SKMC the treatment is currently provided to patients with Thiqa cards, which provides healthcare coverage to UAE nationals.
But Dr Al Hammadi hopes the surgery will eventually be available to all patients.
“The aim is to give this service to everybody,” he said.
“Soon robotic surgery can be used for shoulder, hip, correction of bone and other surgeries.”
The father-of-eleven who underwent the surgery said he had endured a life of pain before the operation.
“I was on so many pain killers and there was no option other than surgery,” said Khamis Al Khansoori, who initially went to Korea for the operation.
When he was told that that there was an Emirati doctor who could carry out the operation in the UAE he took advantage of the opportunity to receive treatment in his own country.
“I turned back. Why go abroad if there is a reputable, qualified doctor in the UAE,” he said.
Mr Al Khansoori will be discharged in a few days and started walking a day after surgery.
“The pain in my knees are gone but now I have a little pain from the stitches. I now have started advising everyone to have their surgeries here. Some of us unfortunately still believe that abroad is better but that is not true. We have the best doctors here,” he said.
Dr Al Hammadi is keen to spread the word that patients do not need to travel overseas to receive the best medical treatment.
"My aim is to spread awareness. you don't need to live in pain and misery. If you are having knee pain, seek help because we have the expertise and the technology," Dr Al Hammadi said.
The UAE's first robotic surgery was used to perform a hysterectomy on an Emirati woman suffering with severe fibroids and endometriosis.
The procedure was carried out at Abu Dhabi's Cleveland Clinic last year.