Automation driven by digital healthcare technologies, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, can significantly contribute to the long-term sustainability and profitability of healthcare. Robots play a significant role in improving the performance of healthcare workers, which is repetitive and monotonous but requires constant attention to detail.
Practicing medicine requires a combination of diagnostic and surgical skills that only highly trained doctors and nurses can reliably offer. Robots have increasingly entered medical settings over the past four decades. Medical robots assist in surgery, streamline hospital logistics, and enable providers to pay direct attention to patients.
Robots exist everywhere, from sci-fi to the automation industry, and are at the stage of revolutionary participation in healthcare. The notion that robots perform tireless tasks, freeing medical staff from routine tasks, is best suited for medical assistance. In addition, the involvement of robots makes medical procedures safer and less expensive for patients.
A medical robot is a robotic system used in medical science. For example, an accurate computer-assisted surgery uses technology with telemanipulators. It is a robotic arm with an endoscope, while the other two manipulator arms have interchangeable tools, such as scissors and grippers. Such surgeries are also called master-slave telemanipulator systems, where surgeons operate programmable machines using computer-aided technology.
Types of Robots in Healthcare
The healthcare industry uses the following types of robots in low-risk activities. The da Vinci System, a commonly used generic surgical robot that focuses on a wide range of surgical procedures in urological, bariatric, and gynecological, is the most widely used robot in healthcare. In addition, Stryker’s MAKO system specialises in orthopedic surgery, especially knee replacement.
Surgical robots either allow surgeries to be performed with better accuracy than unsubsidized human surgeons or allow remote surgeries where human surgeons are not possible with the patient. Robotic surgery is a type of surgery performed using a computerised system.
Pharmaceutical robotic systems help in dispensing drugs in retail pharmacies and help read the information sent by the hospital information systems. They also update the status of the prescribed medications in the system. In addition to scanning and using bar codes to verify medicines, these robots can package, store, and distribute prescription packages.
Rehabilitation robots facilitate and support the lives of people with disabilities, the elderly, or those with impaired organ function. They are also helpful for rehabilitation and related procedures, such as training and therapy.
Telepresence robots allow off-site medical professionals to move from remote locations, look around, communicate, and engage. Ava Robotics, an iRobot spinoff, are intelligent telepresence robots deployed at the hospital. They enable isolated doctors at home to be present in emergency rooms and allow nurses to see patients.
Disinfection robots can sterilise entire room using vibrating ultraviolet light. They are used to fight the Ebola virus and help kill microorganisms using special UV disinfection techniques.
In addition, with future advanced technology working on nanobots, small robots are on track to help treat complex diseases such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, or infection.
How do Robots Help in Healthcare?
The SwabBot robot, developed to conduct COVID-19 swab tests, has recently taken a step forward in the healthcare domain to facilitate medical procedures.
Until recently, robotics has begun to share regular work in medicine. For example, some robots go hand in hand with specialist doctors for surgery and help in the operation theatre. These collaborative robots, called cobots, are for direct human-robot interaction in the shared space.
Cobot, for example, can cut a patient’s bones more accurately and safely using a laser beam. Here, the robot is trained to minimise bone and soft tissue damage, which helps in faster recovery.
The robotic hair transplants promoted in the health market are credited with accuracy and speed. However, they rely on cobots for proper surgery in small places and transporting dangerous substances.
Robotic medical assistants monitor critical patient statistics and alert nurses when a human presence is required in the room. These robotic assistants automatically enter information into the patient’s electronic health records.
You can now see robotic vehicles carrying supplies through the corridors of the hospital. Robots are also helping with surgery, allowing doctors to perform surgery with smaller incisions instead of inch-long incisions. Robotics is also having a significant impact in other areas of medicine.
Mechanical robots first came into practical use in surgical settings in the 1980s. However, there was full development in the technology only after 1990. Puma 560, for example, in 1985, found the cannula to be in the right place for a brain biopsy.
Subsequently, specialised camera-guided robotic surgical systems, such as Neuro-Mate, Minerva, and robot-assisted microsurgery systems, have been used in brain surgery settings. In addition, accurate-engineered micro-mechanical robotic appendages have proven beneficial in surgical settings that require highly accurate positioning for patient safety and operational effectiveness.
Robotic surgical systems, such as one named “da Vinci Surgical System,” are beneficial in a wide variety of surgeries, including spinal, neck, head, and urological surgeries.
The lengthy time of the laparoscopic procedure makes surgery in urology very expensive. Surgeons use remote-controlled surgical instruments to reduce the severity of necessary surgical cuts. In addition, they give the doctor better control over the procedure at hand.
Robots in pharmacy assist pharmacists with many repetitive tasks, from prescribing a drug to delivering it without error.
The use of Robots in pharmacy has grown. The Children’s Specialty Hospital, Al Jalila, one of Dubai’s best pediatric specialty hospitals, became the first to use robotics in its outpatient pharmacy. The authority is looking to automate its inpatient pharmacy workflow by extending the benefit of Pharmacy Robotics. Generally, the robotic arms can pick the right capsules, medicinal packets or collect and label the medicine.
You can use the robot to deliver blood or urine samples and other items to the appropriate hospital staff.. In addition, robotics find applications in phlebotomy, where they can help collect blood samples and label them accurately, which saves time and reduces the workload on nurses.
Self-propelled robots work with humans to deliver food to patients who have to live in seclusion in their own homes, effectively eliminating the risk of spreading the infection.
Rehabilitation robots serve patients of stroke and those having neurological disorders. They help patients to perform rehabilitation exercises. While engaged in these activities, these robots provide a video gaming experience using 3D video technology.
Robot-assisted rehabilitation therapy helps the patient recover faster. It also allows caregivers to undertake heavy-duty tasks, such as transporting elderly patients during rehabilitation care.
The robotic system acquires patient-specific data like power used, range of motion, balancing capacity, etc., contributing to customising the treatment based on the individual’s progress.
The exoskeleton is helpful for rehabilitation therapy procedures such as walking training to help paralyzed patients recover after a stroke, brain injury, or spinal cord injury. Soft robotic gloves are another example of a wearable robot designed to aid individuals unable to hold objects due to chronic neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders.
For example, Cyberdyne’s Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton, which uses sensors mounted on the skin to detect small electrical signals in a patient’s body and respond to joint movements, is designed to help rehabilitate patients with lower limb disorders. These disorders include spinal cord injuries and strokes. Although expensive, these devices are life-saving.
The shortage of healthcare professionals and the lack of special care in remote areas are the main factors for using robots in telemedicine. Telerobotics, which are modeled as human-sized robots, facilitate remote patient monitoring, communication, and timely and specialised patient care.
Patients in remote areas can access high-quality emergency consultations for stroke, cardiovascular, and burn services. In addition, advisors can remotely log into robotic systems and clinical data and act on alerts.
Functions of robots include non-contact-based temperature measurement through infrared light and sending and receiving patient photographs to assist the doctor in the diagnosis.
These robots can move around the hospital, supply themselves wherever they are wanted, and monitor patients in quarantine due to infectious diseases. If patients need urgent help, the robot acts as a telephone portal for doctors.
Usually, several items are displaced daily in an average hospital setting, including batches of medicine, meals, linen clothing, and garbage pounds. As a result, healthcare workers often have to commute to and from the hospital. Autonomous robots meant for mobile transport can tackle many of these tasks. These robots help reduce waiting time and work stress. These robots can navigate freely throughout the hospital using sensors. Robots are also used to carry patients. Such robots are highly beneficial for the care of elderly patients.
Challenges to Tackle
The adoption of robots in the healthcare domain is slow. Self-guided vehicles require installing navigation equipment in a dedicated hall or entire facilities, such as floor tracks. Other robots operate with the help of a laser-drawn map of the hospital, which includes elevators, turns, and automatic doors. This process is also quite expensive.
Robotics requires a relatively high capital investment that delays the adoption of this technology. Hospitals with limited bed capacity cannot invest in automated technology for ROI. Evolving technological advances in the future may add cost to sophisticated robots. Then the requirement of technology-driven infrastructure. In addition, technical skills and space limitations hinder the robotic process. Also, reliability concerns are present. Uncertainty exists in complex processes. However, the increased adoption of AI technology is making them more reliable. Robotics is an ever-evolving domain. Healthcare organisations may avoid adopting it first and opt for a wait-and-watch approach.
Training human staff for robotic tasks is costly. However, the goal of robotic technology is to complete human skills, reduce workload, and enable professionals.
Can Robots Replace Medical Crew?
Though robots provide more accuracy, minor damage, and easier and faster access, they are not a replacement for surgeons. Robotic assistants cannot replace basic human contact. The surgeon is always in complete control of the system. Instead, robots are for enhancing the skills of the professionals, improving their efficiency, and reducing their workload.
Although technology is expensive and some have taken years to implement, robots are changing healthcare. Organizations are adopting robotic technology to automate their work in healthcare. It is worthwhile for medical professionals to look at robotics’ vast potential and future benefits in healthcare. They are exploring ways to utilize innovative but mature robotic technology and engage in it to automate their hospitals and medical services.