Medical Robots are Coming. Are You Ready?

  • January 06, 2017
  • Feature
Medical Robots are Coming. Are You Ready?
Medical Robots are Coming. Are You Ready?

By Rick Delgado, Freelance Automation Writer

In an era of mass digitization, it’s not surprising to hear of Robots making a grand entrance in the medical field. According to a study by market intelligence firm Tractica, the number of medical robots entering practice is expected to triple in the next five years, exceeding 10,000 and culminating in over 38,000 industry wide.

Yes, you heard correctly. Medical robots. Computerized bionic entities that perform clinical and logistical tasks for healthcare facilities. According to Tractica, care providers are drawn to the use of medical robots because of their potential to decrease costs and increase accuracy and productivity. One way this is done is by using robots to perform tedious tasks that are normally left to medical personnel. This allows medical workers to focus on items of greater importance. Robots are also able to perform repetitive tasks with greater precision. Generally speaking, the improvements in accuracy and efficiency wrought by robots serve to cut the costs of care providers.

While it is easy to see why medical administrators are drawn to this technology, it is more difficult to anticipate how prevalent the use of robots will ultimately become in the healthcare sector. Because of Hollywood’s dramatic characterization of robots, some may have questions about their introduction into the medical world. How much interaction will patients have with doctors and nurses? Will the use of robots reduce career opportunities in the medical field? Will certifications offered through medical billing and coding training online become obsolete? It’s difficult to tell what the distant future will hold. Before we get carried away, consider some of the practical solutions and improvements to medical care which have come with the introduction of robots into the industry.

Surgical Robots

Surgical robots are now paving the way for surgeons to perform operations with greater precision and fewer complications. However, these robots are not the kind that are programmed to perform tasks independently. For the most part, surgical robots are large mechanisms which hover over patients with at least two large mechanical arms, respectively equipped with a small camera and various surgical instruments. During surgery, a surgeon will control these instruments remotely from a station next to the machine, meticulously navigating the surgery via a camera feed which is carried on a display screen in the control station. The advantages of this approach are significant. Some reports suggest that the use of surgical robots will lessen the chances of surgical site infection. Smaller and more controlled surgical instruments will mean less pain, less blood loss and less noticeable scars.

Nursing Robots

The roles of nursing robots have proven to be a bit more diverse than their surgical counterparts. One reason for this could be the fact that they are largely still in the development phase and thus, engineers are still finding the most practical and advantageous ways to use them.

In Japan, a rolling robot with the stature of a human and the head of a bionic teddy bear (a sight to behold) is used to transport patients from one station to another. The robot, known as RIBA (short for Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) is equipped with two strong arms for lifting patients and high tech tactical sensors to prevent slipping. This is a perfect example of robotics solving a problem that medical professionals encounter regularly. Such applications of technology help medical facilities to run with greater efficiency and fluidity. 

The Universities of Michigan, Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have recently developed a robotic nurse that serves a completely different purpose: assisting elderly and disabled hospital patients in carrying out their care routines. The nursebot known as Pearl, which possesses much more robotic aesthetic features, serves as a companion to patients, reminding them of when to take their medication and perform other routine care-related tasks, and even mobilizing to help them navigate around hospital wings on routine walks. This is a great help to nurses and other medical personnel because it frees them from these simple, yet time consuming duties. Pearl’s reminder function could even be useful for issuing routine reminders to medical personnel for such things as ACLS renewal and occasional meetings. While robot nurses have not progressed to the point that they can operate independently, they have shown a great deal of promise in terms of offering meaningful assistance to nurses.

About the Author

Rick Delgado is a freelance technology writer and commentator. Connect with him on Twitter @ricknotdelgaldo.

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