Healthcare has come a long way since doctors were prescribing morphine for your winter sniffle. The phrase ‘computer-aided’, such as in computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing or computer-aided engineering, has become commonplace in technology and is now becoming commonplace in medicine.
It’s almost inevitable that in the future we will all either work closely with medical robots or be treated by them. Setting the ethical problems that this raises aside for the time being, using medical robots has a multitude of benefits and potential applications.
Medical robots are being used to take the human error out of surgeries, whether they be complex surgeries lasting for hours or routine ones. They can support, assist and extend the service that health workers provide. In fact, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double by 2020, representing a 10.2% annual growth between 2014 and 2020. The development of these systems is constantly continuing, incorporating augmented reality and more enhanced diagnostic processes.
The use of medical robots is becoming even more intricate than this. Sci-Fi films regularly show a team of scientists making themselves and their ship microscopic with a shrinking ray and journeying through a human’s body to repair damaged organs. This has become a reality, minus the human crew members. The Max Planck Institute in Germany has been working on micro- and nano-scale robotics, created using 3D printers. Many things must be accounted for, including the forces and effects that become significant on the micrometre scale (at this scale, moving through water is like swimming through honey). Building a power source and sensing equipment also poses a huge technical challenge.
The applications extend to things that affect far more of the general population. Many people have a phobia of needles, and dread going to the hospital where a nurse may dig around fruitlessly looking for a vein. This can be extremely painful, but it can all be avoided with the help of Veebot. The robotic IV insertion system uses real-time vein viewing that accurately suggests and selects a preferred insertion site. This system saves hospitals time and money, as well as improving patient well-being.
While the majority of the technological advancements discussed here will be used to improve the efficacy of processes and reduce time wasted doing menial tasks, advancements in other areas have led to significant job losses (think industrial revolution). If technological advancements in medicine can be used to improve services without cutting out jobs for a large number of the workforce, then there is no reason against the widespread uptake of the technology. For new processes to ultimately be successful, though, all parties must get on board, which will require developments in education and training; a new breed of jobs requiring diverse and skilled workers.
Sam Thomas (Trainee Medical Writer, HealthCare21)