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HomeBlogThe Robot Will See You Now: This Is a Preview into the Robot Revolution

The Robot Will See You Now: This Is a Preview into the Robot Revolution

By: Medix team
The Robot Will See You Now: This Is a Preview into the Robot Revolution

They can improve surgical accuracy, support people with disabilities and assist medical staff in performing tasks – but they are still exposed to malfunctions and can cause harm. How do robots fit into the future of the medical world?

The following information may surprise quite a few people: robots have been used in healthcare for over 30 years. They measure patients’ heart rates, “read” medical files and even dispense medicine. But all this is just a preview of what’s to come – an era in which robots will carry out a growing number of actions and responsibilities.


There are several examples of this revolution being put into practice, especially ones involving developments which reduce risks in operating rooms. The first example, which is already widely-used in operating rooms around the world, is the da Vinci Surgical System. The system was the first of its kind to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It consists of a console which controls four robotic arms, each of which is capable of holding surgical instruments, cutting and stitching tissue and performing various surgical activities.


The da Vinci still relies on the human factor and serves as a means of enhancing the surgeons’ capabilities. The surgeon performs the operation via the console by remotely activating the four arms without losing eye contact with the patient or exposing him or her to possible hand tremor. The robotic arms’ increased control ensures minimal surgical incisions, increases the surgical instruments’ range of movement and allows for easy and safe access to areas which a human hand would have difficulty reaching. The result is surgery with less bleeding and less pain.


Today, the da Vinci Surgical System is used for prostate surgery, heart valve repairs, gastric bypass, removal of tumours from the lungs, hysterectomies and other operations. Approximately 44,000 surgeons in 66 countries are regularly using the system, and these numbers are constantly growing.

Blood Test and Results Within Seconds

Another vital role which robots play in hospitals, is transporting and sorting medical equipment. A robot called “Moxi” was developed for this exact purpose: it is equipped with wheels, which allow it to move, and a robotic arm, which allows it to carefully lift objects and distribute them around different departments. In hospitals in Texas where Moxi is used, it has been connected to central computer systems so that nurses can easily assign the robot with specific tasks.


For example, this is how Moxi can help prepare a room for a new patient: it rolls over to the equipment room, collects items, such as an oxygen mask, needles, medication or an infusion pump, and places them in the room. In carrying out such tasks, Moxi takes care of some logistical details, reducing the burden from the nurses, freeing their valuable time to treat patients with a human touch.


Another example is administering blood samples. This is the most common clinical procedure in the world, and it is currently performed by trained medical staff. The ability to locate blood vessels and carry out the blood test without causing pain to the patient or missing the correct spot is no always an easy task. Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have developed a robot capable of taking blood samples automatically and without operator supervision. Once the sample is taken, it is immediately analysed by a decoder located within the robot. Just imagine the impact that this would have on clinics and hospitals, streamlining patient care and increasing efficiencies.


Improving Quality of Life for People with Special Needs

People with various disabilities can also benefit from the assistance of special robots. In 2014, a company called ReWalk Robotics was the first to receive an FDA approval for an exoskeleton support robot. Robotic exoskeleton developments allow people with limited mobility to receive mechanical support which aids bodily activity and movement.


Two types of exoskeleton robots are currently in use. The first is an exoskeleton device made for spinal cord injuries between the T4 and T6 vertebrae and which supports the knees and thighs, allowing patients to walk independently. The second type of exoskeleton robot is a suit used to improve physical therapy and aid patients’ walking ability as they recover from strokes which cause motor injury to the lower extremities. The exoskeleton suit also transmits an activity report during treatment directly to a computer, thus providing therapists with comprehensive information to help assess progress and plan how to continue the rehabilitation.

The Danger: Potential Injuries and Even Death

It is important to remember that despite their value, robots are ultimately electronic devices which can break down, cease to operate in the event of a power outage and are also vulnerable to hacking. For example, when a device supporting a disabled person loses control or power, the consequences can range from the patient’s confinement inside the device to a fall resulting in broken bones.


In addition, in some cases, the advantages of robotic support can turn out to be disadvantages. In the case of the da Vinci Surgical System, in 2015 alone, 92 medical malpractice claims were filed against the manufacturing company for treatments which resulted in injuries and even death. The main cause for malpractice was surgeons’ poor hand-eye coordination during surgeries, which led to unwanted movements.


But perhaps the biggest challenge facing medical robots is the issue of public readiness. Although we have surrounded ourselves with more and more smart technologies and devices in a variety of areas of our daily lives, the medical world has always relied on a human touch, and has used technology mainly as a limited aid for specific uses. Only time will tell our readiness to accept the increasing presence of robots alongside the medical team and how all of this will happen without compromising on the personal attention which also addresses the patient’s emotional wellbeing, patient safety and quality care.

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