Robotics in Healthcare — Get Ready!
In the near future we will inevitably work closely with medical robots. If we take the necessary steps now to gain better understanding of how they work the transition could be easier and simpler.
While there are concerns for machines replacing people in the workforce, the benefits are tempting. Imagine how a machine that doesn’t need sleep or food, doesn’t have prejudices that we humans so often have could change the way we treat people who are sick and vulnerable. With some preparation and forethought, we can make sure the human touch stays relevant in medicine while taking advantage of our metallic allies. For this reason, here are some interesting examples of robotics in healthcare.
Wide range of medical robotics in healthcare
Surgery is an unpleasant experience at best. The waiting lists can be long depending on available manpower and resources. daVinci helps alleviate the problem. It has been used in a wide variety of fields from head and neck to urologic surgery. The surgeon is in complete control of the system at all times, however as the machine has greater reach and flexibility, smaller incisions made with more precision are enough to access the problem areas.
Putting the “Care” Back in Healthcare
During a hospital stay patients interact with nurses the most. They draw blood, check your vital signs, check on your condition and take care of your hygiene if needed. They are often overwhelmed by physically and mentally daunting tasks, and the result is often an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. Robotic nurses will help carry this burden in the future. They are designed to be able to carry out repetitive tasks. This way the staff has more energy to deal with issues that require human decision making skills and empathy. Certain robots can even take your blood sample.
Robotic Assistance for a Better Life
But robotics in healthcare is so much more than drawing blood. With a remote controlled robot, such as the ones developed by Anybots Inc caretakers can interact with their patients, check on their living conditions and the need for further appointments. This would help efficiency a great deal by eliminating the time consuming home visits. Companies producing and the ones maintaining the system will have to make great efforts to alleviate privacy concerns. As with every such device, it must be near impossible to access for non-authorized personnel. With the proper safeguards in place these robots can greatly improve the lives of caretakers and patients alike.
Telemedical Network is Key in Accessibility
Chances are you have been in a situation before where, if an accident were to happen, medical professionals would not have been able to reach you in time. To some of us in the developed world it’s a rare occurrence. But even in 2016 billions live outside of the reach of conventional emergency services. With InTouch Health, patients in remote areas have access to high-quality emergency consultations for stroke, cardiovascular, and burn services. On the patient’s side it can be accessed on a tablet or personal computer, and clinicians can also use the same type of devices as best suits their needs.
The Power of Exoskeletons
You have seen them in movies, taken advantage of them in video games and now they are here for real: exoskeletons. With the help of these devices paralyzed people can walk, rehabilitation of stroke or spinal cord injury patients. They can enhance strength in order to allow a nurse to lift an elderly patient. While they have many exciting uses, it’s important to remember that currently they are costly to make and power, so at least at first they will not be available for everyone. Although, in some cases insurance companies had to cover the costs. Because of this it has the potential to deepen already existing social and economic inequalities. Decision makers have to lay the groundwork to regulate the use of such devices. They will have to stay up to date on their capabilities to prevent misuse.
Robots in the supply chain
The great thing about robots is that they can be built to be so durable that they can overtake tasks that for humans would be simply too dangerous. Take Petman for example: designed for testing chemical protection clothing. It moves freely and can even adjust suit temperature and simulate sweating to provide realistic conditions.
Such solutions not only minimize the risk to human testers, in the long run mechanization of the supply chain makes production cheaper as well. Robots don’t need vacations, to eat or sleep. With a new generation of them more sturdy, agile and flexible than ever they increase productivity in all kind of factories.
Disinfectant Robots in Healthcare
Hospital acquired infections (such as MRSA) are among the leading causes of death in the US. According to CDC statistics used by Xenex show that in the United States, 1 in every 25 patients will contract an HAI. Of those, 1 in 9 will die. In addition to the human cost, it takes its toll financially as well. These infections cost more than $30 billion dollars a year. Xenex, a Texas based company produces a unique robot. It uses high intensity ultraviolet light to disinfect any space in a healthcare facility quickly and efficiently. The Xenex Robot is more effective in causing cellular damage to microorganisms than other devices designed for disinfection. It reduces the number of hospital acquired infections. It’s yet another example of how robotics in healthcare helps hospital staff to decrease workload and will lead to a much friendlier environment.
Robots come in all shapes and sizes
The origami robot, despite its size, is just as impressive as a super strong carrier one. When swallowed, the capsule containing it dissolves in the patient’s stomach and unfolds itself. Controlled by a technician with the help of magnetic fields it can patch up wounds in the stomach lining or safely remove foreign items such as swallowed toys.
There are numerous projects in the works to develop microbots that can travel through bodily fluids to deliver medication exactly to where it’s needed, or even to repair damaged cells. Though most of these are only theories today, tomorrow we very well could be fighting off infections with the help of nanobots that are built to mimic our white blood cells, only doing a much faster and effective job of destroying bacteria.
As with nurses, pharmacists are burdened with tasks that could be eliminated by utilizing the advancing robotics in healthcare. Heavy lifting, as always, is a big help, but a robot could process information much faster and much more accurately than humans. This way it could make more precise recommendations after sifting through the patient’s available medical data. Pharma dispensers could work as an ATM does, so no matter time of day patients can get access to their prescriptions. If robots were used for such tasks, pharmacists would have the time and the incentive to participate in the social aspect of healing: educate people of preventive measures, give practical advice and therefore make sure that healthcare truly becomes caring.
Certain robot companions can serve as a social partner in order to alleviate loneliness or treat mental health issues. Jibo, Pepper, Paro and Buddy are all existing examples. Some of them even have touch sensors, cameras and microphones, thus their owners can get into discussions with them, ask them to find a great concert for that night or just remind them about their medications.
Mainstream media have a huge responsibility here. If they fail to report the amazing advantages and results, but they do report massively the failures such as the one that said it wanted to destroy humanity (which was only a minor gap in its communication algorithm), people will think robots are coming to take our lives.
Change is often scary, and robotics in healthcare is a big one. It has the potential to do so much good: to bring medical care to regions where even today there is none to be found; to make the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals cheaper and more efficient; to lighten the load of medical professionals; to help people walk again. To reap the benefits and avoid the potential dangers of such a technological revolution we need to keep informed about the strides that science makes so that we can better prepare and adapt to the not-so-distant future where robots play a crucial role and work closely with us.