Although the field of medicine is a thoroughly scientific venture, it’s a field that’s historically been slow to adopt new technology, as the high stakes involved mean small mistakes can have disastrous results
However, the benefits of certain technologies mean there is great interested in bringing technological advances to the field, and robotics has begun playing a major role in medicine in recent years. Here are some of the places where you’re likely to see robotics in medicine in the near future.
Performing surgery requires precision, and capable surgeons are able to perform remarkable feats. However, human physiology comes with limitations. Perhaps the most famous robot being used in surgery today is da Vinci. High-definition video provides doctors with levels of resolution impossible using traditional surgery techniques, giving surgeons an enhanced ability to see the structures they’re operating on. The arms on da Vinci can perform tasks the human hand and wrist cannot, enabling new types of surgical maneuvers. Da Vinci can also make smaller incisions compared to human surgeons, minimizing infection risk and reducing the appearance of scars. It may still be some time before robots can perform surgery without human intervention, but efforts are underway.
A significant portion of healthcare is ensuring patients receive the attention they need, and having humans check in on patients, especially the elderly, is a significant cost. Robotic assistants are beginning to fill this gap. Already, robots can provide a degree of companionship many elderly people need on a daily basis, helping to reduce feelings on loneliness that can have a profound impact on health. Furthermore, robotic assistants can measure signs of health in individuals and alert medical professionals if attention is needed. Although robots will never replace visits from family or check-ins from medical professionals, they can provide the type of day-to-day care that’s increasingly needed for aging populations.
Servicing Clinics and Hospitals
It takes a significant amount of human labor to keep hospitals and clinics up and running, and these labor costs contribute to rising healthcare expenses. Robots used in other industries are coming to healthcare centers. Instead of paying people to disinfect rooms on a regular basis, robots can instead perform the task. People staying in hospitals need deliveries of food and other items. By investing in robots instead of hiring new employees, health organizations can reduce their operating costs and pass these savings to patients.
Mobility is a major elements of healthcare, and helping people enjoy their lives is a major goal of those in the medical field. Wheelchairs have advanced significantly over the years, and modern chairs are more convenient and safer to operate, partially due to robot-like components. Medical exoskeletons, however, have become a focus, with several companies vying to bring products to the market. Exoskeletons allow people to handle environments that aren’t accessible to wheelchair users, and they enable users to blend into society more seamlessly. For some patients, being able to walk is a significant goal, and exoskeletons have the potential to let them achieve this dream.
Devices manufactured for medical use cost several times more than their non-medical counterpart. A simple scalpel, for example, might cost five times as much if it’s approved for medical use. Part of this is due to the increased precision mandated by medical use, and robots will help meet these high levels of tolerance. The approval process involved with medical devices is expensive as well, and testing is a significant expense. Robots designed to simulate human movement and physiology can help reduce these expenses, making it easier to try out and approve new products. This type of innovation can ensure doctors and patients receive better products, and it can lead to more rapid innovation.
In-office visits will likely never be supplanted by robotics, but telemedicine has the potential to connect medical experts and patients remotely. Better camera technology is having an impact, and remotely controlled arms and other devices can allow doctors and nurses to perform certain tasks across a network. Telemedicine will allow patients to connect with doctors with extremely narrow specialties, allowing doctors to better treat specific conditions. Telemedicine also cuts back on transportation costs, which add up quickly when patients need to make regular trips to medical facilities.
Robotics haven’t been as fast to enter fields as some futurists projected, but they are having an impact in the medical field. We likely won’t be replacing our regular doctors with robots any time soon, but advances in robotic technology, combined with improved artificial intelligence, means that change is coming to the medical field in a big way.