Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Health+Tech | Embracing robotics in healthcare

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2020 | 6:37 AM
Doug Halsall
Doug Halsall

The use of robots across all industries is becoming more and more popular but is far from new. According to the International Federation of Robotics, “a total of 2.7 million industrial robots now operate in factories around the world. The ongoing automation trend and technical improvements rapidly change industrial production.” ( https://ifr.org/).

Today robots are being used in agriculture, in the food industry, in manufacturing, in the military and, of course, in healthcare. In every industry, the aim is to increase efficiency and productivity but for healthcare if goes further. Patient and clinician safety as well as improvements in the execution of medical procedures are two additional and important considerations.

Robotics in healthcare is an industry that is projected to grow rapidly in the future, and especially given our present experiences with this COVID-19 pandemic – which have shown us the importance of limiting human interaction in some scenarios in healthcare – the option of using robots for certain tasks seems even more appealing.

There are several advantages to using machines. While they do have to be maintained to ensure optimal performance, they don’t need sleep or food and would not experience fatigue, which, let’s face it, contribute to a lot of human error.

In healthcare, errors can be fatal or make a patient much worse off than when they sought care in the first place. Robots would be better suited for monotonous tasks and cleaning than humans are and would stay engaged in exactly the same way each time for a repetitive task. This can free up medical professionals to focus on more technical tasks that require their expertise.

IN SURGICAL PROCEDURES

Robots are now being used in surgical procedures. In fact, that market is quite large and is growing. According to the latest Surgical Market Research Report (2014-2025), it is estimated that the global surgical robotics market will be $13 billion by 2025 ( http://www.marketwatch.com).

The use of robots in this case helps to increase precision and accuracy in surgery. This includes the use of micro-robots that are placed in the body to target specific areas of focus and in some cases administer drugs ‘or even perform micro-surgery, such as unclogging blood vessels’ ( https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com).

It is no secret that surgery is an area in which there has been much technological development. Robotics, virtual and augmented reality to aid the surgeon have all been used in many hospitals across the world.

Additional data from the Surgical Market Research Report indicate that:

• More than 6,000 robotic systems have been installed in around 66 countries worldwide, primarily for orthopaedics and abdominal/pelvic procedures.

• More than 40,000 surgeons are trained in robotic surgery and an estimated six million surgeries have been performed to date.

• More than one million robotic surgeries per year are expected from 2019 onwards.

Along with its other medical robotic innovations, a company called Luvozo ( https://luvozo.com/) has created a robot that can provide ‘check-in and non-medical care’ for persons in long-term care facilities. This ensures that the elderly patients have constant supervision and care as well as reduce the cost of care for the facilities.

MANY OTHER USES

There are many other uses for robots in healthcare, especially in orthopaedics, which is also a growing area. Robots will be vital to the improvement and development of health technology in the future. This will take some time, as is the case for most technology-related change, to be adopted and widely accepted.

The question of robots taking over human jobs and creating an unemployment gap will, of course, be up for discussion. Options like using them to undertake monotonous tasks, and hazardous undertakings such as hospital disinfection are things to consider.

The healthcare industry would also have to consider going through a process of job re-engineering and redefining job functions to make them more useful and meaningful instead of abolishing them all together.

There is no question, however, that robotics will significantly improve what we have to offer in healthcare, and it is an area that we will need to embrace to get the most out of it for patients and healthcare professionals alike.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com and editorial@gleanerjm.com