What is the current state and future of robotics in healthcare?
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Robots are everywhere nowadays. A far cry from the bloodthirsty monsters often found in sci-fi movies, their contributions to healthcare are invaluable. Without them, remote telemedicine would not be nearly as effective and we would not have robotic nurses, the DaVinci Surgical System, or the Anybots used in adult care (this list goes on). In this article, we examine the most common ways robots are utilized in the healthcare industry and how they can actually provide better care than humans.
How are robots transforming healthcare?
Medical processes like surgery require the utmost attention to detail. Surgeons, being prone to fatigue, may not be equipped to see to the endless queue of patients waiting to go under the knife. Also, due to delicacy or location, they may find they have limited access to certain vital organs or areas of the body.
Enter surgical robots, which can help reduce surgery lengths as well as post-surgical complications and recovery time.
Surgical robots’ market value is expected to exceed $91.5 billion in 2020, with more expansion in the subsequent years. This unprecedented boom is an enticing platform for investors.
At the time of this article’s writing, the da Vinci Surgical System and visual haptics are set to revolutionize surgery. These 15-year-old robots boast some amazing features like magnified 3D high-definition vision systems and tiny-wristed instruments that can bend and rotate to a far greater extent than the human hand. With a surgeon at the controls, the da Vinci is capable of more precision than we ever thought possible.
Geriatric care can be a tedious endeavor. Remote-controlled medical bots, like the ones designed by Anybots, can aid caretakers by monitoring their patients’ basic needs and living conditions. This reduces the number of home visits and thus frees up caregivers to focus on other more emergent activities — everybody benefits! Powered by cutting-edge technology, these robots feature a human touch that allows them to frequently check on their patients, determine their activities, and even keep them company.
Patients can now interact with their doctors and receive information and medical counsel without having to leave the comfort of their own homes. When needs arise, remote areas often face a lot of difficulties in gaining access to physicians. Programs like Babylon Health, Avizia, Teladoc, American Well, Health Tap, Doctor on Demand, and InTouch Health work to bridge those gaps. These robots facilitate high-quality emergency consultations for cardiovascular, dermatological, stroke, and any other urgent medical situations. As simple as scrolling through your social media feed, the process requires the patient to access a personal computer or tablet while the physician responds from their end.
Applying AI to nursing has proven to be a difficult task as true personalized, human to human interaction cannot be completely replicated. Despite that hindrance, robotic nurses like Shiva assist in keeping an active eye on patients. This robo-nurse also draws blood, checks vital signs, monitors conditions, and takes care of hygienic needs. Designed to excel at carrying out repetitive and monotonous tasks, they give their human counterparts more time to attend to other issues. Currently, there is speculation that these robots might soon be improved to the point where they can even perform laboratory tests.
Not only are exoskeletons granting many people chances to walk again, but they are also serving to augment medical practice. The list of their utility is endless as they can be used in rehabilitation, surgical procedures, etc.
Robots: a new reality
Let’s clear up some of the most common misconceptions about robots:
- Will they really replace humans?
Well, it’s complicated. No, they will not take over our planet and they will not take all of our jobs. The aim of introducing AI-powered robots in healthcare is to complement human labor and take our capabilities to another level. Not all processes can be automated, and these machines need human interaction in order to learn and work properly.
- Are robots infallible and perfect at their jobs?
While it is true that robots are not prone to fatigue or other challenges common to humans, this does not make them error-free. Has your car ever broken down? Robots are machines like any other — their programs can be affected by malware or they may malfunction for any reason at any time. Accordingly, it is crucial that their operators maintain them and ensure that they are in great working condition.
- Can they lose control (and maybe kill us all)?
Many of us grew up watching sci-fi movies, so we may believe that embracing robots means embracing our doom. Thankfully, this will not be the case. Robots are our loyal servants who learn by interacting with us and our environment.
The goal is for advanced medical robots to operate at level 3 autonomy. In level 3 autonomy, humans function as a check-and-balance intervention, by closely monitoring them.
Robots are here to stay. They offer a vast array of benefits and are capable of improving each patient-physician encounter. The future lies in artificial intelligence, so the future of healthcare delivery will surely see its share of high-functioning, ever-evolving medical robots.