Quantitative analysis of technological innovation in minimally invasive surgery. BJS 2015; 102.

Published: 27th January 2015

Authors: A. Hughes‐Hallett, E. K. Mayer, P. J. Pratt, J. A. Vale, A. W. Darzi


In the past 30 years surgical practice has changed considerably owing to the advent of minimally invasive surgery (MIS). This paper investigates the changing surgical landscape chronologically and quantitatively, examining the technologies that have played, and are forecast to play, the largest part in this shift in surgical practice.


Electronic patent and publication databases were searched over the interval 1980–2011 for (‘minimally invasive’ OR laparoscopic OR laparoscopy OR ‘minimal access’ OR ‘key hole’) AND (surgery OR surgical OR surgeon). The resulting patent codes were allocated into technology clusters. Technology clusters referred to repeatedly in the contemporary surgical literature were also included in the analysis. Growth curves of patents and publications for the resulting technology clusters were then plotted.


The initial search revealed 27 920 patents and 95 420 publications meeting the search criteria. The clusters meeting the criteria for in‐depth analysis were: instruments, image guidance, surgical robotics, sutures, single‐incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS) and natural‐orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). Three patterns of growth were observed among these technology clusters: an S‐shape (instruments and sutures), a gradual exponential rise (surgical robotics and image guidance), and a rapid contemporaneous exponential rise (NOTES and SILS).


Technological innovation in MIS has been largely stagnant since its initial inception nearly 30 years ago, with few novel technologies emerging. The present study adds objective data to the previous claims that SILS, a surgical technique currently adopted by very few, represents an important part of the future of MIS.

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