Can robotics transform the medical industry?

While there are many medically-oriented applications for robotics, the long-term prospects for their use are not obvious. Many industries understand the impact of robotics – and medicine is no exception.

Although the adoption of this technology in medicine is slower than in other industries, the impact can be enormous: robotics in medicine can help reduce human error, shorten recovery times and shorten hospital stays, ultimately improving the quality of life for patients.

Today, companies are using advances in this technology to develop new robotic medical applications of the future, including those related to bionics, disease detection and rehabilitation.

Bionics technologies: from bionic body parts to micro robots, in the form of tablets that can be swallowed, robots come into our lives and can change the way we practice medicine.

ORTHOPAEDIC ROBOTS

When it comes to surgery, robotics is mainly a high-tech surgical assistant that can help doctors perform minimally invasive surgery – especially in hard-to-reach areas.

Most of these systems are FDA approved and are classified as a surgical assistant robot (RAS). They allow surgeons to perform operations using a console that controls the surgical arms, cameras and other instruments directly involved in the procedure.

RAS systems reduce the size of incisions, reduce the likelihood of blood loss and infection, and reduce pain and complications in patients.

INDUSTRIAL BOTS

Collaborative robots, or robots designed to work together with humans, are another area where bionics is actively promoted.

Cobots are increasingly being used in industrial and factory environments, enabling people to interact safely with robots as many large industrial installations with robot functions are not designed with this interaction in mind.

GROWTH OF REHABILITATION ROBOTS

Rehabilitation robots associated with bionics are also used in the medical industry. For example, to help patients recover from shocks and other brain injuries, and to help users recover strength, coordination and agility.

As the population ages, people live longer, improving quality of life and reducing the time it takes to recover from injuries is becoming increasingly important for older people. Looking at the growing geriatric population, there is a need for rehabilitation robots.

START REHABILITATION EARLIER

Rehabilitation is only the beginning of the recovery process, but it can be vital to the patient’s mental and emotional health as well as physical well-being. The earlier rehabilitation begins in patients, the shorter the hospital stay, better motor dynamics, less swelling and less pain in the long term.

Robotics can help patients move faster without the need for multiple medical specialists. This is particularly useful for those who are severely traumatized or completely immobile. A robot assistant helps to move the legs of lying patients so that they can perform rehabilitation exercises.

Companies developing these devices hope to use this technology to offer patients individualized care. Robots can help medical professionals focus on rehabilitation earlier, which can shorten the time a patient stays in hospital.

OTHER COMMON APPLICATIONS OF ROBOTS IN MEDICAL DEVICES

Robots are not only used for medical procedures in hospitals. There are a number of other applications that robots already perform, from doctor-patient communication to sterilization rooms.

ROBOTIC COURIERS FOR MEDICAL PERSONNEL

Delivery is another area where robotics can be used. Robots can be used to deliver materials, medicines. This will reduce waiting times for medication and test results, as well as use additional functions to allow medical professionals to focus on other patient care priorities.

POTENTIAL MEDICAL ROBOTIC PROBLEMS

While robotic applications in medicine are moving forward, these technologies face barriers to implementation.

A small study based on FDA data on surgical robots in 2015 found that “despite the widespread adoption of robotic systems for minimally invasive surgery, there are still few technical difficulties and complications during procedures.

The study mentioned that expectations for robots are not risky.

Some of the most pressing issues are listed below:

Money and time costs: One of the biggest obstacles many robotic companies face is the cost of machines. For example, creating robots that can accurately reproduce the way the hands, wrist, and fingers of a surgeon move is an expensive development. A single robot machine can cost a medical facility more than $1 million.

Regulation and accountability: Medical regulation is another stumbling block for many startups and healthcare brands. The FDA must approve robotic devices for human use, a process that requires long and costly testing. The more autonomous robots become, the more acute the questions about the consequences of errors become.

Privacy issues: Users may also be concerned about privacy. As more and more bots are equipped with artificial intelligence, the companies that develop them will have access to millions of patient medical records.

Unverified technology: Lack of data can make further implementation difficult. While the application of many medical robots looks promising, there is actually not much data on long-term cost-effectiveness.

Ethical issues: There are doubts about the feasibility of using telepresence technology. Ethical issues associated with the use of robots take many forms, ranging from fear of limited privacy to fear that the use of robots prevents patients from communicating with people – something that many medical professionals consider vital to care.

There’s no doubt that medical robotics will evolve. There are a number of advances in robotics in the medical field that can improve treatment quality and outcomes for patients, including benefits such as less invasive surgery, more informed diagnoses, intuitive prosthetics and faster rehabilitation.

However, there are still a number of obstacles that need to be overcome if these technologies are to be used for patient care in the long term. In addition to complex and often costly R&D, companies in this field will have to consider factors such as regulation, pricing and training of health professionals, not to mention emotional and ethical considerations in a sensitive area such as medicine.

Robotics can bring enormous benefits to health care, but there is no consensus on whether all the problems have been overcome to ensure the long-term practical application of the technology.