With another year comes another round of work on the part of robotics developers to introduce new devices into medical spaces, such as hospitals, clinics and operating rooms.
There’s still lots of ground left to break in terms of convincing governments and institutions behind legacy healthcare systems to rethink surgical robots, both in terms of adopting new devices and how they’re made accessible, but there’s also much to be hopeful about in 2018.
The benefits of robot-assisted surgery — using robotic arms to help surgeons as they perform a wide range of procedures, not to replace them — are starting to become more widely known, which will help to erase skepticism that some doctors still hold towards medical robotics.
Meanwhile, machine learning and artificial intelligence are also beginning to creep into the medical sphere and 2018 could turn out to be a breakthrough year.
Here’s our quick look forward at the ways in which we envision robots impacting medical practitioners this year:
1) More available technology means more assistance options
Anyone familiar with medical robotics knows the name “da Vinci,” and with good reason. Since being cleared to enter the market by the
FDA in 2000, the surgical system has become a staple in operating rooms that have welcomed robot technology — and practically the only one.
This could soon change, however. As the The Economist reports, with many patents belonging to Intuitive Surgical (the ones responsible for da Vinci) either expired or set to expire, the stage is set for other companies developing smaller, more versatile robots to make their way into hospitals.
Surgeons will start to see a multitude of new options for technology that are more easily integratable into their operating rooms and, in some cases, more affordable. This could open the door for robots to be implicated in assisting with a wider range of surgeries and, depending on the costs involved, could be enough for some medical facilities to start embracing robots.
2) Precision and accuracy equals more successful surgeries
While many surgeons remain tentative about mixing robotic assistants with traditional methods, some developers are already successfully demonstrating that their technology can, in fact, carry out safer, more accurate procedures than even the swiftest hand of the most expert surgeon.
The research team behind the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR), which presented their findings at the 2017 IROS conference, demonstrated that cuts made by their robot were incredibly precise, damaging less flesh around the incision than conventional methods.
It’s no secret that robots have the ability to be calibrated to make incredibly precise movements, so as engineers continue to create technology that alleviates some of the risks of surgery, doctors will be able to ensure better results for their patients.
3) Robot-assisted surgery allows better conditions for many patients
If there’s one thing people who know they’re facing surgery want to feel, it’s at ease. And while it would be impossible for patients to go into a procedure with 100% unwavering certainty, it’s at least helpful to know that conditions are as optimal as possible.
Aside from just precise cuts, robot technology allows surgeons to have more control over their environment. Whether it’s to ensure a patient doesn’t lose a lot of blood, is able to recover in less pain or is able to minimize a hospital stay, surgeries involving robot assistance are proving to create the right circumstances for people to feel at ease.
4) Artificial intelligence will soon be able to assist doctors to make better diagnoses
Technology isn’t just making itself present inside the operating room, but outside of it as well.
As encyclopedic as a doctor’s memory needs to be in order to quickly reference symptoms, diagnoses, rare conditions and so on, an MD’s word isn’t foolproof every single time. Imagine, then what medical practitioners could do with the power of artificial intelligence backing them up.
In 2017, London’s Babylon Health launched a pilot program in which 111 chatbots — drawing from an impressive bank of nearly 300 million pieces of “primary care critical semantic knowledge” — are able to consult with patients via smartphone and provide educated diagnoses based on the information supplied. The founder, Dr. Ali Parsa, says that by working in tandem with an AI system, doctors can spend more time focused on providing necessary treatments.
Because the human brain can only store so much information, the ability for fully formed smart systems, such as this, will be a boon to help doctors make more accurate diagnoses.
5) Machine learning will help doctors make better, quicker decisions
Aside from assisting with diagnoses, smart machines will be able to enhance doctoral knowledge by providing easy access to a trove of information designed to save patients time and money.
Everything concerning not just, treatments, prescription drugs, possible side effects, etc. will be at a medical professional’s fingertips, but also how each of those elements specifically affects the profile of the patient receiving care. Having up-to-date knowledge at their fingertips will give doctors the ability to act faster and more effectively than ever before.