With the growth or robotics and artificial intelligence in manufacturing and other aspects of our lives its inevitable we start to look at how these technologies can improve our health care. That might cause some concerns about ethics in medicine, people losing jobs to robots and AI and how would the doctor, technology and patient all come together for treatment. Even with these concerns, it’s hard to ignore the potential benefits Robots can bring to the medical field.
The introduction of robotics to the medical field dates as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. Since then it has steadily grown a become a major tool in the medical industry. A recent study and report by Credence Research estimated the global medical robotics market to be valued at an amazing $7.24 billion in the year 2015. The market is expected to reach a $20-billion dollar in the next several years.
The reason for this fast growth is based on the growing demand for Robotic applications in medical areas including orthopedic, neurologic and laparoscopic surgeries and procedures. These technologies can be made available 24×7 and don’t need ongoing training and can greatly multiply the more limited resources of human medical professionals. Here are some areas that robotics have impacted the medical field:
1. Surgery and Precision – The use of robots in surgical procedures have seen improvements and higher success rates in certain types of operations including gallbladder removal, coronary artery bypass, kidney operations and much more. By making robotics available in surgery it helps to free up surgeons for more complex medical procedures. It also helps improve the precision of certain medical procedures beyond what a human is capable. In almost all cases the surgery is under total guidance and control of a human medical expert, and the robotics assist. This can lead surgeries to be completed with patients with smaller incisions while achieving better results. In the future, we may see robots controlled by augmented reality systems that will further improve accuracy and positive outcomes.
2. Improved Service Delivery– Robotics have been developed that are designed to take on everyday hospital tasks that can become monotonous to nurses and. These robots can be tasked with the responsibility of checking vitals, collecting blood samples and related. Robots have the benefit of a lack of any emotional attachment or assessment. Even though this bedside manner may not be pleasant to the patient it does keep the robot focused on the task at hand regardless of the environment. Other uses include robotic receptions such as Pepper, Xenex the disinfecting robot, robots to move medicine and supplies, patient lifting robots and many more!
3. Telepresence – Robots are being utilized by medical practitioners in delivering health care services to inhabitants of remote or rural areas. This ability to be present with the use of a robotic device while being physically absent is what constitutes Telepresence. This means that doctors and surgeons can attend other surgeries or treat people in distant locations by giving detailed instructions for the case being attended to, with the use of the real-time and live visual coverage with the use of these robots. Some robotic devices have navigation capabilities within emergency rooms that allow specialists that are absent to intervene should complications or the need for consultations arises.
4. Rehabilitation – One of the many ideas that were initially developed in sci-fi movies (e.g. Luke Skywalker’s hand) that have now become part of reality in the medical world is the development of prosthetic appendages for physically challenged. The physical rehabilitation is brought by the development of robotic arms and legs that can fill in and offer a life closer to normal. Physical rehabilitation by robots is, however, more than prosthetics. Robots have been designed to help people with the spinal cord, bone fracture, neuromuscular and neurobehavioral irregularities. Several robotics-based therapies can be used for mobility, strength and physicality improvements Virtual and Augmented realities are also being incorporated into some Robots to stimulate and improve motor functions such as walking and balancing. There is even an emerging type of empathic robots that help to work at the emotional level with patients.
5. Sanitization and Disinfection – With the increasing amount of bacteria that have become antibiotic resistant, there is a higher demand in the need for more through the surface and environment cleansing technique. Deadly diseases such as the Ebola virus require more effective surface cleaners and robots that offer highly efficient sanitization and disinfection with the use of UV light and Hydrogen peroxide in its vapor form have been made to ensure thorough removal of germs and disease-causing organisms. In the case of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI), Robots can be highly instrumental in ensuring fewer victims contract HAIs The center for disease control reported that for every 25 patients, 1 will contact an HAI. The same stat further indicates that of the 1 in 25, a further 1 in 9 will die.Robots can help to reduce these statistics.
6. Pharmarobotics – Robots can be highly effective and accurate. The medical industry has tapped into this capability and has since developed several robots that help in dispensing medications and writing prescriptions. This technology will see robots using medical data and diagnosis from doctors to dispense drugs in the right amount and volume. There have even been nanobots developed that follow detailed programming and enter the human body to operate in specific areas. Some of these have been designed to fit inside drug capsules and are highly effective in treating ailments that may not require operation and surgeries.
The above listed are just some of the many aspects which robots have been successfully deployed and utilized in the medical industry. As effective as Robots are in the medical care of today, there are still some limitations to what some Robots can do. Some technologies are also promised to be developed in the near future that will continue to grow their use. Some of the limitations, as well as the future possibilities, include:
1. Full Automation – Robots are highly intelligent. There is however yet to be a model that can operate fully automated without the input of Man. What this means is no robot can perform surgeries on its own and neither can Robots think on their own in the wake of uncertain circumstances or complications during surgeries.
2. Cellular treatments – As at now, even the nanotechnological applications in Robotics, Nanobots are unable to treat advanced cellular issues. In the near future, robots may be able to perform treatments at the cellular level and may advance to stages where they can deliver drugs, battle cancerous cells or even repair genes.
3. Child and Elder Care – For the foreseeable future, medical child and elder carethis will likely be fairly limited to basic service activities. That means the care delivery will still be heavily human based with some assistance from robotics.
4. Empathy and Sympathy – Forget the R2-D2s of the Star Wars, Robots are not able to feel empathy or sympathy at any level. Robots cannot consider feelings when delivering medical assessments and diagnosis. They can’t also assess the impact of specific care delivery on the patient and adjust as needed.
The medical industry is just now beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible with robotics. With health care costs soaring and medical care likely to be less and less available any sort of robotic support has the potential to revolutionize medicine and improve the lives of humans.